Great Britain And The European Union Finalize Brexit Trade Deal

Dec 26, 2020
Originally published on December 27, 2020 11:55 pm

The details of the long-awaited Brexit deal between Great Britain and the European Union are coming into focus.

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It had all the makings of a terrible divorce that was settled amicably at the last minute.


URSULA VON DER LEYEN: So we have finally found an agreement. It was a long and winding road, but we have got a good deal to show for it.

PFEIFFER: That's European Union President Ursula von der Leyen after the U.K. and the EU hammered out a trade agreement on Christmas Eve, just days before Britain's exit from the EU becomes complete. It was a hard-fought deal, with 200 officials working out last-minute details including quotas for individual species of fish. So how will it be received in Britain? We have NPR's Frank Langfitt on the line from London. Hi, Frank. And give us a broad overview of what's in this deal.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: I think, Sacha, the most important thing is no tariffs or quotas on most products, which is the same as things are now. That'll reduce disruption at the border at the end of the year, as you were saying, when the EU and the U.K. do their - basically their final split. And this is really important to manufacturers. It would have been a nightmare for the car industry to have to deal with tariffs. Many factories were actually built here because of tariff-free access into Europe. That said, there will be border checks, health forms to fill out, value-added and excise tax on some products. So there will be delays come January 1.

I think the most important thing, though, to remember is that this deal doesn't really say much about services, which are 80% of the economy. So, for instance, London has been the financial capital of Europe. London is going to lose market access to EU clients. So a lot of this remains unresolved.

PFEIFFER: Frank, one of the final sticking points in negotiations was over fishing, specifically whether EU fishermen should still have the right to fish in British waters and how much fish they can catch there. I take it that's fully resolved.

LANGFITT: It has been. The amount of the EU catch is going to slowly reduce over the next 5 1/2 years, and then there'll be a negotiation. The EU did pretty well here. I think it got roughly what it wanted. And in exchange, the EU basically gave U.K. car manufacturers that tariff-free access into Europe that they wanted. The fishing is symbolically really important. The concept, if you go back to the 2016 Brexit referendum, was to take back control of laws and power from Brussels, and that included fishing grounds.

PFEIFFER: The British Parliament as well as the European Parliament have to approve this deal. Are both expected to pass it?

LANGFITT: Yes, I think both parliaments will pass it - certainly here. And frankly, in Brussels and across the EU - it's been 4 1/2 years. People are exhausted by this. That said, the entire text has just come out this morning. And so I think you'll see, particularly here in London, members of parliament poring over it very carefully before the vote, which I think is expected around the 30th.

PFEIFFER: As you said, Frank, people are exhausted. And you know well how much the Brexit vote split this country in so many ways. One of them is that retirees voted heavily to leave the EU while students voted overwhelmingly to stay. How does this deal affect younger Britons who were so against Brexit?

LANGFITT: You know, Sacha, it really damages their opportunities. I'll give you an example. The U.K. will no longer be able to participate in a program called Erasmus. This provides grants for up to 17,000 British students to study or work in apprenticeships anywhere in the EU. So they could study in Rome, Paris, Berlin. I know lots of young people who love this program. Boris Johnson says it's too expensive, and he's going to replace it with an international program to go to other universities around the world. But given COVID-19 pandemic as well as the economy here, you got to really wonder how much funding the U.K. government will have for this.

PFEIFFER: After this bitter battle that went on for years, do you sense that U.K. citizens can finally move on and put the divisions over Brexit behind them?

LANGFITT: No, I have real doubts about that. A Brexit vote - I got to say, Sacha, it was like a political bomb in ways that people didn't really fully appreciate. And we're still feeling the shockwaves here. The most obvious example is actually north of here in Scotland. It's created a new push for an independence referendum up there. And so I think the next thing for Boris Johnson to try to do is to try to basically rebuild ties with Scotland and try to see if he can head off an attempt for another referendum. And that's going to be his next challenge in the coming months.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Frank, thanks for your ongoing reporting on this.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, Sacha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.