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First came the Brexi trade agreement. Now comes the bureaucracy and the heart of the institutional question.

Four days after sealing a free trade agreement with the European Union, the British government warned companies on Monday to prepare for disruptions and “hard times” when the new rules go into effect Thursday night.

Businesses struggle to digest the details and implications of the 1240-page agreement sealed by the EU and the UK on Christmas Eve, just one week before the end of the year deadline.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference in Downing Street, London. (AP)

Meanwhile, ambassadors from the 27 EU nations gave their unanimous approval to the deal on Monday.

“Green light,” said German spokesman Sebastian Fischer, whose country currently holds the EU presidency.

Approval was expected as all EU leaders have warmly welcomed the deal, which is designed to put post-Brexit relations between the bloc and former member UK on a reliable basis.

However, the deal has not eliminated the mistrust that was instilled between Britain and its neighbors during months of contentious negotiations.

The French presidency said in a statement that France would remain “from day one very alert” about the implementation of the agreement, especially to protect French companies and fisheries “in the event that the UK breaches its commitments.”

The deal needs approval from the British Parliament, which is scheduled to vote on Wednesday, and the EU legislature, which is not expected to accept it for weeks. Leaders of political groups in the European Parliament said they would not seek full approval until March due to the specific and far-reaching implications of the deal. The overwhelming expectation is that EU lawmakers will approve the deal.

Trucks wait to board ferries the morning after Brexit took place at the Port of Dover in Dover, England. (AP)

The UK left the EU almost a year ago, but remained within the bloc’s economic embrace during a transitional period ending at midnight Brussels time 11pm in London on December 31.

The deal, drawn up after more than nine months of tense negotiations, will ensure that Britain and the 27-nation bloc can continue to trade goods without tariffs or quotas. That should help protect the £ 660 billion ($ 1172.5 billion) in annual trade between the two parties, and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that depend on it.

But the end of Britain’s membership in the vast single market and the EU customs union will continue to bring inconvenience and new costs for both individuals and businesses, from the need for tourists to have travel insurance to millions of new customs declarations that companies will have to fill out. outside.

“I am sure there will be difficult times, but we are there to try to do everything we can to pave the way,” Michael Gove, the British cabinet minister in charge of Brexit preparations, told the BBC.

The conservative government of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson argues that any short-term disruption to Brexit will be worth it, because the UK will now be free to set its own rules and strike new trade deals around the world.

However, there was an ominous preview this month of what could happen if trade between the UK and the EU faces heavy restrictions, when France briefly closed its border with Britain due to a highly communicable new variant of the coronavirus. spanning London and southern England. Thousands of trucks were stuck in traffic jams or parked at a disused airfield near the Channel Port of Dover for days and supermarkets warned that some produce, including fresh produce, would soon run out.

A colleague wears a Christmas hat while European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier carries a Brexit trade deal folder during a special Coreper meeting at the European Council building in Brussels. (AP)

Even after France relented and agreed to let in truckers who tested negative for the virus, the backlog of 15,000 drivers now in need of testing took days to clear.

Despite the deal, uncertainty hangs over large parts of Britain-EU relationship. The deal covers trade in goods, but leaves the UK’s huge financial services sector in limbo, still not sure how easily it can do business with the bloc after January 1. The British territory of Gibraltar, where thousands of workers cross daily from Spain. He is also in limbo as he was not included in the deal.

“This is not a final deal closed in many respects,” UK Jill Rutter told a Changing Europe think tank, noting that big decisions are yet to come in many areas.

And the deal has angered a sector the UK government has promised to protect: fishing. The economically minor but hugely symbolic issue of fishing rights was a sticking point in the negotiations, with the EU maritime nations seeking to retain access to UK waters and Britain insisting that it should control its seas.

Under the deal, the EU will forfeit a quarter of the quota it catches in UK waters, much less than the 80 percent initially demanded by Britain. The system will be rolled out gradually over five and a half years, after which the quotas will be reassessed.

“I am angry, disappointed and betrayed,” said Andrew Locker, president of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations of Great Britain. “Boris Johnson promised us the rights to all the fish that swim in our exclusive economic zone and we have a fraction of that.”

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