U.K. and EU set to announce last-minute trade deal
The U.K. and the European Union are poised to announce a trade deal that will allow for tariff-free fresh produce exports and imports to continue, just one week before the Brexit transition period comes to an end.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are expected to hold a phone call this afternoon after both sides finish hashing out the fine detail of the deal, which is thought to be around 2000 pages long.
“Certainly the momentum and the expectation is that we will get a Christmas Eve Brexit deal and I can tell you that will be an enormous relief,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told RTE radio.
Haggling over just how much fish such as sole, sand eels and herring EU boats should be able to catch in British waters was delaying the announcement of one of the most important trade deals in recent European history.
The U.K. left the European Union - by far its main trading partner and biggest fresh produce supplier - on Jan. 31, 2020, after the 2016 public referendum on EU membership. But a transition period is in place until Dec. 31, 2020, under which previous regulations and trade rules remain the same.
Retailers and the fresh produce industry have repeatedly said over recent years that a no-deal Brexit would have resulted in severe and widespread disruption to U.K. fruit and vegetable supplies, along with price rises for consumers, and deep economic impacts for European suppliers, especially in countries like Spain and the Netherlands.
It could have potentially also resulted in knock-on effects in other fresh produce markets around the world.
U.K. and EU negotiating teams talked through Wednesday night to finalize the details of an agreement.
The two sides now have one week to get any deal formally approved in London and Brussels. While there will not be time for the European Parliament to vote on the deal before the end of the transition, it is expected that the deal would be provisionally approved until it can be ratified later in January.
If a deal is not signed off by then, tariffs - or taxes on goods - could come into force.
The news comes amid disruption to U.K. fresh produce suppliers after France on Monday closed its border to passengers and all freight coming from Britain following the discovery of a new and more infectious variant of Covid-19.
France has since re-opened its border on the condition that all truck drivers have a negative Covid-19 test, but the temporary restrictions have resulted in thousands of trucks facing severe delays to cross the English Channel between the two countries.