Leaders to sign post-Brexit UK-EU deal
British parliament embarks on rushed debate to approve agreement
Published: Dec 30, 2020 06:38 PM
The UK and European Union were expected on Wednesday to sign a mammoth trade pact to put the seal on their drawn-out Brexit divorce in the dwindling hours before they part ways definitively at the dawning of 2021.

EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel were expected to ink the 1,246-page Trade and Cooperation Agreement, officials in Brussels said, days after it was clinched on Christmas Eve following months of hard-fought talks.

The hefty documents were then to be flown by the Royal Air Force to London for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to add his signature, as the UK parliament embarks on a rushed debate to clear the decks before a December 31 (Thursday) deadline.

According to Downing Street, Johnson will tell MPs that the agreement heralds "a new relationship between Britain and the EU as sovereign equals, joined by friendship, commerce, history, interests and values."

The government only released the accompanying UK legislation on Tuesday afternoon - less than 24 hours before the debate is to start in parliament an hour after the signing in Brussels.

The government intends to ram all stages of the 85-page European Union (Future ­Relationship) Bill through the Commons and the House of Lords in one day, before the EU trade deal takes effect at 11:00 pm (2300 GMT) on Thursday. 

At that hour - midnight in Brussels - the UK will be entirely out of the EU, following an 11-month transition period in place since Brexit took legal effect and more than four years after Britons voted to leave in a divisive referendum.

Each side will work "hand-in-glove whenever our values and interests coincide, while fulfilling the sovereign wish of the British people to live under their own laws, made by their own elected parliament," Johnson was expected to say.

The agreement averted the prospect of a cliff-edge separation which would have seen quotas and tariffs slapped on all cross-Channel trade, exacerbating strains in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit Britain harder than most.

The full consequences of the agreement will only play out in the coming months, and UK businesses will still be grappling with the kind of customs red tape they have avoided for decades in trading across the Channel.

From January 1, there will no longer be free movement of people from Britain to the EU or vice versa. 

Under the compressed legislative calendar, the European Parliament will only debate the Brexit deal after the New Year. 

Pending that, EU member states gave their green light on Monday for the accord to take provisional effect before ­Thursday's deadline.
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