The end of the transition period, four and a half years after the majority in the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, is an important moment in the nation’s history. After nearly five decades as part of the bloc, the UK will now forge a separate path.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday that Britain would be an “open, generous, outward-looking, cosmopolitan, free-to-trade” country with “the freedom to do things differently, and if needed better” than the European Union.
“We have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it,” Johnson said during his New Year speech, just hours before the end of the transition period.
Opening the debate on the bill on Wednesday, Johnson told members of Parliament that the deal “will open a new chapter” and allow the United Kingdom “to control our laws and our national destiny.”
But critics warn that the UK economy will suffer as a result of Britain’s exit from the European Union, with many companies not preparing for the upcoming changes, especially those coming with the nation affected by the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Now that the UK has left the single market and the customs union, goods crossing the border will undergo customs and other checks. Delays and disruptions can occur when carriers discover that they lack the correct paperwork, or that new software systems break down under pressure.
Kerr Starmer, leader of the opposition Labor Party, warned last week that “there are serious questions about the government’s readiness for the new arrangements” after the negotiations failed.
He asked labor lawmakers to support the bill rather than risk the “devastating” consequences of the UK’s exit from the European Union without a trade agreement. But Starmer said that the Johnson government “lean agreement” “does not provide sufficient protection for British manufacturing, our financial services, our creative industries, or workplace rights.”
Scotland’s Prime Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said in a tweet, sent out at 11 pm UK time, that Scotland is “coming back soon, Europe”. The Scots overwhelmingly voted to remain in the European Union in the 2016 referendum, and Brexit injected new energy into the fight for Scottish independence.
The trade agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom did not cover Gibraltar, the British Overseas Territory on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula.
Just hours before the transition deadline expires on Thursday, Spain and the United Kingdom announced that a separate draft agreement had been reached on the post-Brexit status of the European Union.
Time to put Brexit behind us
The European Parliament is expected to consider the deal at a later time before it is formally ratified by the European Union.
The deal with Brussels defines a new trade and security relationship with the UK’s largest trading partner. It was finally set after months of stalemate in areas such as fishing quotas, how the UK would use state aid to support British companies after Brexit, and legal oversight over any deal reached.
The agreement, which keeps Britain free of tariffs and quotas to consumers of the bloc, protects the UK from some of the most potentially dire consequences of Brexit as it grapples with a crippling pandemic.
The deal appears to cover mostly merchandise trade, with the UK running a deficit with its European Union neighbors, but it excludes key service industries such as finance, as it currently enjoys a surplus.
Some of the front pages of British newspapers looked like a victory note on Thursday despite the likely rocky road.
The Daily Express said that “Britain is completely free of the European Union,” while the “Times of London” announced: “It is a goodbye to everything that has been signed with the Brexit agreement.”
But the high rates of infection with the Coronavirus may prompt hopes of any pro-Brexit to celebrate the end of the transition period on the streets of Britain.
More than three quarters of England’s population is now subject to the toughest restrictions in the country, with the aim of curbing the spread of a new, more contagious type of coronavirus.
News of this shape prompted France, along with other countries in Europe elsewhere, to cut travel from the United Kingdom. With thousands of trucks stranded in the British port of Dover in the run-up to Christmas, some observers fear it also portends the potential chaos of a no-deal Brexit.
Meanwhile, the full effect of Brexit remains to be seen on Britons living in the European Union, as well as on EU citizens living in Britain. 3M, a popular organization of EU citizens in the UK, has highlighted concerns about those who do not realize that they must apply to the EU Settlement Scheme by the end of June to protect their rights in the UK.
Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Lya said in a televised news conference on Thursday that the agreement concluded in principle between London and Madrid will avoid the difficult border between Gibraltar and Spain.
She said this was something that many locals on both sides of the border feared as the transition period ended.
Gonzales Laia said a transition period was expected to last six months until a new treaty was completed. Unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, Gibraltar will still be part of EU agreements, like the Schengen area, allowing the free flow of people and goods across member borders.
“Spain will ultimately be responsible for implementing Schengen in Gibraltar,” Gonzales Laia said.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the UK has a “warm and strong relationship with Spain”.
“Today, working side by side with the Prime Minister of Gibraltar, and after extensive discussions with the Spanish government, we have reached an agreement on a political framework to form the basis for a separate treaty between the UK and the European Union on Gibraltar. We will now send this to the European Commission to start negotiations on the formal treaty. “.
“In the meantime, all parties are obligated to mitigate the effects of the end of the transition period on Gibraltar, and in particular to ensure the liquidity of the borders, which is clearly in the interest of the people who live on both sides.”
Vasco Kotofio of CNN, Ivana Kotasova, Johnny Hallam and Niyameh Kennedy contributed to this report.