EU lawmakers are set to finally ratify the bloc’s post-Brexit trade agreement with the UK after the European Parliament’s political group leaders set next Tuesday (27 April) as the date to take a plenary vote on the deal.
However, they warned that breaking a three-month stand-off on holding the vote did not mean that the UK could expect no new concessions.
The Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Boris Johnson’s government was agreed by negotiators on Christmas Eve and passed by the UK parliament on 31 December, just in time for it to take effect the following day.
However, the EU has provisionally applied the terms of the TCA since 1 January, and a series of diplomatic rows between Brussels and London over the implementation of new checks and customs procedures, particularly on goods travelling from Britain to Northern Ireland, has resulted in the EU delaying formal ratification of the TCA.
Last week, the European Parliament’s International Trade and Foreign Affairs Committees gave their green light to the pact by an overwhelming 108 to 1 margin.
In the highly unlikely event that MEPs delayed the trade agreement next week, a further two-month extension would be required from the UK government to avoid the collapse of the deal.
London views setting the date of the Parliament vote in Strasbourg as a concession, which EU lawmakers were quick to play down on Thursday, warning that setting a vote did not mean that the bloc was ready to grant the UK further concessions on the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has been at the centre of tensions between London and Brussels.
“The UK government should not misinterpret this as a sign that we are letting our guard down,” said Socialist group spokesman on foreign affairs, Andreas Schieder.
“In ratifying the TCA, we are strengthening our hand as its terms include unambiguous measures, such as restricting market access, to enforce what both sides have agreed,” he added.
“Unfortunately, the unilateral breaches of the Withdrawal Agreement and the NI Protocol have affected important aspects of trust in our partnership.
That follows hints from the Johnson government that they plan to ramp up their rhetoric on the need to rewrite sections of the Northern Ireland Protocol to eliminate additional trade barriers on goods arriving from Britain.
The Protocol, which the unionist community in Northern Ireland wants to scrap, was a controversial issue throughout the Brexit talks, though the final text was negotiated and agreed by Johnson. It keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]