Britain and the European Union have struck a provisional free-trade agreement after months of tense and often testy negotiations.
With just over a week until the UK’s final split from the EU, the UK government said the “deal is done.”
The deal averts New Year chaos for cross-border traders and bring a measure of certainty for businesses after years of Brexit turmoil.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it a “good, fair and balanced deal.”
“We have finally found an agreement.
“It was a long and winding road, but we have got a good deal to show for it,” she said.
In a statement, the UK government said “everything that the British public was promised during the 2016 referendum and in the general election last year is delivered by this deal.”
“We have taken back control of our money, borders, laws, trade and our fishing waters,” the statement read.
“We have got Brexit done and we can now take full advantage of the fantastic opportunities available to us as an independent trading nation, striking trade deals with other partners around the world.”
The UK government said it deal came in “record time, and under extremely challenging conditions.”
The deal should ensure the two sides can trade in goods without tariffs or quotas. But despite the breakthrough, key aspects of the future relationship between the 27-nation bloc and its former member remain uncertain.
Months of tense and often testy negotiations gradually whittled differences between the two sides down to three key issues: fair-competition rules, mechanisms for resolving future disputes and fishing rights. The rights of EU boats to trawl in British waters remained the last obstacle before it was resolved.
Huge gaps over fishing were gradually closed over weeks of intense negotiations in Brussels, even as Johnson continued to insist that a no-deal exit was a likely and satisfactory outcome to the nine months of talks on the future relationship between the EU and its ex-member nation.
The UK and EU will “continue cooperating in all areas of mutual interest”, Leyen said, such as climate change, energy, security and transport.
She confirmed five and a half years of “full predictability for fishing communities” has been agreed.
The British and European parliaments both must hold votes on the agreement, though the latter may not happen until after the UK leaves the EU’s economic embrace on Jan. 1.
It has been 4 1/2 years since Britons voted 52%-48% to leave the EU and — in the words of the Brexiteers’ campaign slogan — “take back control” of the UK’s borders and laws.
On Jan. 1, the breakup will start feeling real. The new year will bring huge changes, even with a trade deal. No longer will goods and people be able to move freely between the UK and its continental neighbors without border restrictions.
EU nationals will no longer be able to live and work in Britain without visas — though that does not apply to the more than 3 million already doing so — and Britons can no longer automatically work or retire in EU nations. Exporters and importers face customs declarations, goods checks and other obstacles.
Despite the deal, there are still unanswered questions about huge areas, including security cooperation between the UK and the bloc and access to the EU market for Britain’s huge financial services sector.