The deal, agreed more than four years after Britain voted by a slim margin to leave the bloc, offers a way out of a chaotic finale to a divorce that has shaken the 70-year project to forge European unity from the ruins of World War II, Reuters reported.
It will preserve Britain’s zero-tariff and zero-quota access to the bloc’s single market of 450 million consumers, but will not prevent economic pain and disruption for the UK or for EU member states.
Many aspects of Britain’s future relationship with the EU remain to be hammered out, possibly over years.
The UK formally left the EU on Jan. 31 but has since been in a transition period under which rules on trade, travel and business remained unchanged until the end of this year.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the face of the pro-Brexit campaign, had said that since 52% had voted to leave the EU, he did not want to accept the rules of its single market or its customs union after Jan. 1.
The EU did not want to give unfettered privileges to a freewheeling, deregulated British economy outside the bloc, and so potentially encourage others to leave – resulting in a tortuous negotiation.
“It was a long and winding road,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters. “But we have got a good deal to show for it... Finally we can leave Brexit behind us and look to the future. Europe is now moving on.”
Johnson described the last-minute agreement as a “jumbo” free trade deal along the lines of that done between the European Union and Canada, and urged Britain to move on from the divisions caused by the 2016 Brexit referendum.
The deal will also support the peace in Northern Ireland. EU member Ireland said the deal, which the Commission website said would be published soon, protected its interests as well as could possibly have been hoped. But it left much of the detail still to be worked out.
The trade pact will not cover services, which make up 80% of the British economy, including a banking industry that positions London as the only financial capital to rival New York.
Access to the EU market for UK-based banks, insurers and asset managers will become patchy at best.
Johnson said the deal did not contain as much as he would have liked on regulatory equivalence for financial services, but still contained some “good language”.
“The unity and strength of Europe paid off,” French President Emmanuel Macron said. “The agreement with the United Kingdom is essential to protect our citizens, our fishermen, our producers. We will make sure that this is the case.”
The deal governing post-Brexit trade needs the approval of both the European Parliament and the EU’s 27 member states. Ambassadors from EU countries started reviewing the deal on Friday. The European Parliament said on Thursday it would analyze the deal in detail before deciding whether to approve the agreement in the New Year.
The British Parliament, as divided as the country over Brexit, will debate and vote on the deal on Dec. 30, just one day before the transition period lapses.