EU lawmakers moved closer to ratifying the bloc’s new trade agreement with the UK on Thursday (15 April), after the European Parliament’s International Trade and Foreign Affairs Committees gave their green light to the pact.
However, MEPs are still yet to confirm when they will hold a final plenary vote to ratify the agreement, after the leaders of the Parliament’s political groups, known as the Conference of Presidents, declined to set a date at their latest meeting on Tuesday. Under the existing deadline, MEPs have until the end of April to endorse the trade deal.
Bernd Lange, the German centre-left lawmaker who chairs the Committee on International Trade, said that while the vote was “historic […] it’s totally clear that at the moment there is no date fixed,” for the final vote.
“There’s a reason behind that. We want to see clear commitments for the fulfilment of the protocol,” he said, adding that there was still “mistrust towards the British government, specifically regarding the unwillingness to implement the necessary steps in the Northern Ireland Protocol.”
Although the Trade and Cooperation Agreement which governs post-Brexit trade was finalised by negotiators on 24 December, and quickly ratified by the UK parliament on 31 December, it has only been provisionally applied, pending the EU’s ratification.
The pace of ratification has since been delayed by the ongoing row between London and Brussels over the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, which has seen the European Commission begin legal proceedings after accusing Boris Johnson’s government of breaking its terms.
Earlier this week, the EU executive granted a request by the UK government for more time to respond to the Commission’s legal action over London’s plans to unilaterally extend the grace periods during which some goods and products are exempt from following the new customs procedures required for trade between Britain and Northern Ireland.
In response to the dispute, MEPs have stalled on ratifying the trade deal, forcing the European Commission to request a two-month extension in February. Should the European Parliament miss the 30 April deadline, a new extension would be required to avoid the collapse of the pact.
David Frost, the UK’s minister for EU relations, is in Brussels on Thursday for talks over the implementation of new customs arrangements in Northern Ireland with European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic, his co-chair on the Joint Committee tasked with policing the Withdrawal Agreement and trade pact.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]