The European Parliament is expected to ratify the post-Brexit EU-UK trade deal, amid tensions including a French threat of reprisals against the UK.
The Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) has been operating provisionally since January and is expected to be ratified by MEPs later on Tuesday.
French Europe Minister Clément Beaune accused the UK of blocking fishing rights. He said the EU could respond with “reprisals” in financial services.
The TCA covers EU-UK trade in goods.
It means goods – but not services – can be traded free of tariffs or quotas. The UK economy is dominated by services.
The TCA has still resulted in more paperwork, extra costs and less trade between the two sides, since the UK left the EU.
Praising the deal when it was agreed in December, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “we have taken back control of our laws and our destiny”.
He described it as
“a deal which will if anything allow our companies and our exporters to do even more business with our European friends”.
Northern Ireland tensions
There are tensions over the UK’s unilateral decision to ease trading rules for Northern Ireland.
Under a separate protocol, Northern Ireland remains de facto part of the EU’s single market, so goods arriving there from Britain have to undergo EU checks. Since Brexit there has been some disruption to that trade.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU was determined to resolve those difficulties with the UK.
“We need solutions, not soundbites, if we are to make the protocol work for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland,”
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France’s Clément Beaune threatened reprisals in sectors such as financial services if the UK failed to implement agreements on fishing in full.
The UK made fishing rights a key issue in the negotiations, with control over access to its waters seen as a sign of British sovereignty.
Mr Beaune warned that France could hold up approvals for British financial service operators to work in the EU.
“The United Kingdom is expecting quite a few authorisations from us for financial services. We won’t give any for as long as we don’t have guarantees on fishing and other issues,”
he said on French news channel BFMTV.
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Meanwhile, British seafood exporters have been hit by an EU ban on UK exports of live shellfish. Scottish firms account for most of that business, and some now face collapse.
Brexit ‘a lose-lose situation’
In the European Parliament, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said Brexit was a divorce and a warning of the feelings of the people:
“It’s a failure of the European Union and we have to learn lessons from it.”
German MEP David McAllister said Brexit
“will always be a lose-lose situation”,
but he called on fellow MEPs to ratify the TCA.
The first four months of trade under the TCA have been defined by less trade between EU and UK and often a distinct lack of co-operation, BBC Europe correspondent Nick Beake reports.
The European Commission has launched legal action, accusing the UK of breaching the agreement on Northern Ireland trade and breaking international law – charges Downing Street denies.
Two key committees of the European Parliament have already overwhelmingly backed the TCA. But a draft resolution will invite MEPs to declare the UK’s exit from the EU an “historic mistake”.
What else is affected by Brexit?
The TCA is a 1,400-page deal which was not clinched until 24 December. The Brexit negotiations began in 2017 and the UK left the EU on 31 January 2020. Common rules remained during the UK’s transition period until January 2021.
Brexit also means:
- Blanket free movement of citizens between the UK and EU no longer applies. Business travellers do not need a visa for short trips, but artists and performers are not covered – so, for example, British rock bands face bureaucracy for gigs in the EU
- The rights of the roughly one million UK citizens living in the EU, and of EU citizens in the UK, are protected under the TCA. But the UK citizens face varying deadlines for obtaining residence rights; for the three million EU citizens in the UK the deadline for applications is 30 June
- Government subsidies are now under intense scrutiny on both sides, as the EU insists on a “level playing field” in trade. Courts will have to decide in cases where subsidies are allegedly unfair. UK financial services, not covered by the TCA, face new EU bureaucracy – so many City banks have beefed up their EU-based operations,