A view of one of the documents signed by Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson from the Brexit trade deal with the EU after the formal signing at number 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, Dec 30, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

While pact clears last hurdle, chamber hears warning against backsliding

European lawmakers have finally ratified the post-Brexit trade deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom, five years after Britain voted to end its 47-year membership of the bloc.

Members of the European Parliament, or MEPs, supported the trade and cooperation agreement, or TCA, by 660 votes to five, with 32 abstentions, in a vote held late on Tuesday. However some expressed their mistrust of the British government, reported the Reuters News agency.

The lawmakers also voted in favor of an accompanying resolution that described Brexit as a “historic mistake”.

The resolution said: “The UK’s withdrawal from the EU is a historic mistake and recalls that the EU has always respected the UK’s decision while insisting that the UK must also accept the consequences of leaving the EU.”

It also criticized a lack of provisions for financial and other services in the UK-EU Brexit trade deal.

“It is a logical consequence of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and in particular the ending of freedom of movement, that the opportunities for the UK’s largely service-based economy are vastly reduced,” the resolution said.

EU ambassadors had provisionally ratified the agreement in December, ensuring it came into law by the end of the Brexit transition period on Jan 1.

MEPs wanted more time to scrutinize the 1,600-page deal, and Parliament’s consent was necessary for the agreement to enter into force permanently before its lapse on April 30.

Speaking to MEPs, David Sassoli, president of the European assembly, said: “Today the European Parliament voted on the most far-reaching agreement the EU has ever reached with a third country.”

A step forward

“This can form the foundation on which we build a new forward-looking EU-UK relationship,” he said, adding that MEPs would monitor the implementation of the deal and “not accept any backsliding from the UK government”.

Sassoli added: “You cannot have the advantages of EU membership while being on the outside. However, this agreement goes a long way to mitigate its worst consequences.”

Speaking in Parliament, Michel Barnier, Europe’s chief negotiator, said: “This is a divorce. It is a warning, Brexit. It’s a failure of the European Union and we have to learn lessons from it.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the vote. In a Twitter post referring to the trade and cooperation agreement, she said: “The TCA marks the foundation of a strong and close partnership with the UK. Faithful implementation is essential.”

Before the vote, von der Leyen assured MEPs that the agreement had “real teeth” and that any deviation by London from the pact would have consequences.

Brexit tensions remain, particularly with new fishing restrictions and around trade with Northern Ireland.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government faces legal action from the EU over its plans to unilaterally extend grace periods when many products traveling from the UK to Northern Ireland are exempted from checks.

The UK has demanded that the Northern Ireland Protocol, which ensures that there is no hard border on the island of Ireland, be adjusted following complaints from businesses and Northern Ireland’s Unionist community.

The UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, said the vote “brings certainty and allows us to focus on the future”, reported the BBC.

In a statement, Johnson said it was a “final step in a long journey “and that the trade deal provided “stability to our new relationship with the EU as vital trading partners, close allies and sovereign equals”.