UK lawmakers endorsed Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit trade agreement with the EU on Wednesday (30 December) with a thumping 521 to 73 majority, setting the country on course to retain its free trade with the EU when it leaves the Single Market at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Only a handful of hard-Brexit Conservative MPs abstained while 30-odd Labour MPs, as well as Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish deputies, opposed the pact.
The new trade and security pact, will mean the start of a “new relationship between Britain and the EU as sovereign equals, joined by friendship, commerce, history, interests and values, while respecting one another’s freedom of action and recognising that we have nothing to fear if we sometimes choose to do things differently,” Johnson told the House of Commons.
The deal comes into force on 1 January.
The House of Commons was recalled for an emergency session to ratify the trade pact finalised by negotiators on Christmas Eve. The EU (Future Relationship) Bill has been rushed through Parliament in a single day.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel signed the trade treaty earlier on Wednesday.
Although national parliaments across the EU-27 and the European Parliament will not begin their ratification processes until the New Year, EU ambassadors have already given the deal their approval, meaning that it will be applied from 1 January.
The agreement will ensure quota and tariff-free trade between the EU and UK, and includes provisions that will see the UK gradually take greater control of its fishing waters. It also means that the UK will no longer be bound by rulings by the European Court of Justice. Visa-free travel will also stay in place.
However, there will no longer be mutual recognition of professional qualifications, making it harder for people to migrate for work.
Meanwhile, financial services, the most lucrative single sector of the UK economy, will not be covered. Instead, they will have to rely on decisions that their regulations have “equivalence” with those in the EU.
Equivalence decisions may be withdrawn by the European Commission with just 30 days’ notice and exclude some core banking services.
The EU has said that decisions on equivalence will not be made until January. Elsewhere, cross-border data transfers will remain unchanged for at least four months as long as the UK does not change its data protection rules, pending a final decision on an ‘adequacy agreement’ by the Commission.
The opposition Labour party joined Johnson’s Conservatives in the voting lobbies with Labour leader Keir Starmer telling MPs that the agreement would “avoid a no deal and put in place a floor from which we can build a strong future relationship”.
Starmer warned, however, that the trade deal would lead to “an avalanche of checks, bureaucracy and red tape for British businesses”.
“The lack of ambition here is striking,” he added.
The Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Northern Irish parties all voted against the agreement.
While welcoming the deal on the grounds that it “brings much needed certainty for businesses”, the trade lobby group UK Finance added that “it will be important to build on the foundations of this trade deal by strengthening arrangements for future trade in financial services”.