The United Kingdom and the European Union have formally signed their divorce agreement, paving the way for the country to leave the bloc on January 31 and begin the "healing" after years of fierce Brexit debates
BRUSSELS (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 25th January, 2020) The United Kingdom and the European Union have formally signed their divorce agreement, paving the way for the country to leave the bloc on January 31 and begin the "healing" after years of fierce Brexit debates.
The signing of the document took place on Friday, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as well as the chiefs of the European Council and Commission putting pen to paper to seal the hard-won agreement. It came a day after Queen Elizabeth II granted royal assent to the Brexit bill.
THREE AND A HALF YEARS OF TALKS
First, her team produced the so-called Chequers agreement in July 2018, rejected by the EU. In November 2018, the draft was superseded by the withdrawal agreement, which had been jointly worked out by the two sides.
At the subsequent Conservative party leadership contest, former Foreign Secretary and ex-London mayor Johnson was elected as the new Tory leader and prime minister on the promises of taking the country out of the EU without ifs and buts.
In early November, Johnson asked the Queen to dissolve the parliament and call snap general election. In the December vote, the Conservative Party secured a landslide victory, gaining a historic 80-seat majority in parliament.
Nigel Farage, the Brexit Party leader, had not presented candidates in the districts where the conservative candidate was a firm Brexiteer. This helped ensure Johnson's victory as people obviously wanted to turn the page on Brexit divisions.
After the Brexit deal was signed by Johnson, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, it is now for the European Parliament to ratify the agreement on January 29.
The European Parliament's Committee on Constitutional Affairs has already given its go-ahead. Next week's plenary session therefore can be considered a formality. In other words, nothing seems to stand in the way of the British departure from the EU on January 31.
Johnson can say that he has "got Brexit done," as promised.
"At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we've done it. Now we can put the rancour and division of the past three years behind us and focus on delivering a bright, exciting future - with better hospitals and schools, safer streets and opportunity spread to every corner of our country," he stated earlier in the week.
11 MONTHS OF TALKS WITH EU ARE AHEAD
The UK and the EU will now switch to very practical discussions on the way to organize travel and passport controls, on the levies and tariffs to be collected, if any. They have a year of "status quo" on all issues, before things change with the planned expiry of the transition period.
The divorce deal includes a solution for the much-discussed Irish border. It remains open, without endangering the European single market. Northern Ireland will continue to align the rules for goods with those of the European market. All checks on goods will take place at the places of arrival in Northern Ireland, and therefore not at the border, and the UK authorities will have to apply the European customs code and charge European customs tariffs on goods that may be sent to Ireland, a EU member state.
In addition, the agreement deals with, among other things, the rights of European citizens in the UK and vice versa, the commitment of the British to fulfill their financial commitments and a transitional period until the end of 2020. That gives Brussels and London barely 11 months from January 31, to deepen their future relationship.
"Things will inevitably change but our friendship will remain. We start a new chapter as partners and allies," European Council chief Michel declared on Twitter.
Meeting in an EU27 format on January 22, the committee of the permanent representatives to the EU notably endorsed guiding principles for "transparency in the negotiations on the future relationship." These principles will facilitate effective public scrutiny throughout the negotiations.
All negotiating documents of the EU negotiator that are shared with member states, the Council, the European Parliament, national parliaments or the UK will be released to the public, within the limits of EU law.
Rules on transparency and public access to documents will apply to all documents in the context of the negotiations. In other words, the practical process should be transparent, contrary to the complicated negotiations of the past years that led nowhere.
IS UK ECONOMY GOING TO COLLAPSE AS DOOMSTERS PROJECT?
Over the last few years, many media outlets and experts have projected that the British economy could very well collapse after its companies would lose the vast European market and its exporters would not work under the protective European umbrella anymore.
Yet, official figures challenge these prophecies: the UK unemployment figure is at 3.8 percent in the last quarter of 2019, while the average European unemployment is nearly double that figure, at 7.5 percent, as of November 2019.
The UK at 3.8 percent unemployment does better than France at 8.4 percent, better than Italy at 9.7 percent, better than Spain at 14.1 percent, even better than Finland or Sweden, and is only slightly worse than Germany at 3.1 percent.
British unemployment has hit a 45-year low (lowest since 1974), official data shows, and the economy does not risk falling into a deep recession as predicted. There seems to be no mass exodus of multinationals, and the London financial district still bustles with activity.
Annual wages growth meanwhile climbed to 4 percent, the highest level since 2008. Productivity is high but does not seem to improve at the same rate as before, which can be seen on the other side of the channel as well. There has been a "brexodus," a return of many Poles and other Eastern Europeans back to their country, especially in the logistics sector, which needs to recruit, as companies increase their stocking areas, ahead of Brexit.
The growth figures are lackluster, at 1.8 percent, but they are no better on the continent. Public debt is at 85.9 percent of GDP, while France, Italy, Belgium and others are above or 100 percent of GDP.