2/2 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Conference on the Future of Europe, in Brussels 2/2
By Philip Blenkinsop BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Parliament has overwhelmingly supported the post-Brexit trade deal between Britain and the European Union, clearing the last hurdle to ratification, while expressing clear distrust of the British government. EU lawmakers approved the trade and cooperation agreement (ATT) by 660 votes to five and 32 abstentions, parliament announced on Wednesday, a day after the vote. Parliament’s consent ends more than four years of bitter negotiations and debates as Britain ended 47 years of EU membership, but mistrust persists. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she warmly welcomed the vote. “The ATT marks the foundation of a strong and close partnership with the UK. Faithful implementation is essential,” he said in a tweet. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week was the final step in a long journey, providing stability to Britain’s new relationship with the EU. “Now is the time to look to the future and build a more global UK,” he said in a statement. ‘HISTORICAL ERROR’ Lawmakers also voted en masse in favor of an accompanying resolution describing Brexit as a “historic mistake.” The text speaks of the limited scope of the trade deal, with opportunities for Britain’s largely service-based economy “greatly reduced”. Lawmakers condemned Britain’s unilateral change in trade agreements in Northern Ireland and urged the Commission to go ahead with its legal action. They also warned the European Union to be on the lookout for British action on taxes, money laundering and access by EU fishing vessels to their waters. Britain left the EU at the end of January 2020, but remained in the EU single market until early 2021. The deal reached in December guarantees zero tariffs and quotas, but adds new controls and red tape that hamper trade. British exports to the EU fell 47% in January-February and imports 20%, far more than any other EU trading partner. EU lawmakers see the trade deal, including possible sanctions like shutting down market access, as a tool to keep Britain in check. Christophe Hansen, one of the lawmakers in charge of the file, said the vote should be seen more like an insurance policy. “Ratification of the agreement is not a blind vote of confidence in the UK government‘s intention to implement our agreements in good faith,” he said.