European Parliament brands Brexit a ‘historic mistake’ before vote to ratify trade deal with UK

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The ratification of the trade deal brings an end to four years of Brexit negotiations. - AFP

The ratification of the trade deal brings an end to four years of Brexit negotiations. – AFP

The European Parliament will brand Brexit a “historic mistake” as it votes to ratify the UK-EU trade deal this afternoon in Brussels.

MEPs are expected to overwhelmingly back the trade agreement in the vote, which is the final step to conclude the years of Brexit negotiations begun with the triggering of Article 50 in March 2017.

The trade deal was provisionally applied at the end of last year because the negotiations ended so close to the no deal deadline. MEPs are unlikely to vote against the agreement because it would cause a no deal, which would be damaging for both sides.

But the parliament is also expected to pass a resolution which criticises Britain over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol and crows about EU victories in the trade talks.

The resolution states, “the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is a historic mistake and recalls that the EU has always respected the UK’s decision while insisting that the UK must also accept the consequences of leaving the EU.”

It boasts that the new trade deal focuses on goods before adding, “it is a logical consequence of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and in particular the ending of freedom of movement, that the opportunities for the UK’s largely service-based economy are vastly reduced.”

The resolution accuses Britain of “depriving young people of such a unique opportunity” by refusing to continue participating in the Erasmus student exchange programme.

MEPs will back language praising the trade agreement for avoiding the worst economic impacts of Brexit and in particular no deal.

The resolution also says that the trade deal will give the EU leverage in ongoing negotiations with the UK over the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement in Northern Ireland.

Britain angered Brussels by unilaterally extending grace periods in the Protocol and the European Commission has begun legal action against the UK.

The grace periods exempt exports from Britain to Northern Ireland from customs checks on meat products and parcels. The UK has also carved out exemptions from EU rules on soil and pet passports.

“The Parliament condemns the UK’s more recent unilateral actions,” the resolution said.

The resolution calls on the commission to pursue the legal action “with vigour” and warns that parts of the trade deal could be suspended if the UK persists in the breach.

While the resolution is non-binding, it will increase political pressure on the European Commission, which brought the legal action against the UK.

The Commission and the UK continue to negotiate over the implementation of the Protocol. The EU executive believes that a ratified trade deal will give it additional powers to retaliate faster and harder if there are further breaches.

Clément Beaune, France’s Europe Minister, warned the deal was not a “blank check”.

“If the UK does not enforce it, we will respond with retaliatory measures,” he said.

MEPs also demanded an enhanced role in monitoring the implementation of the new trade agreement.

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