EU lawmakers approve post-Brexit trade treaty

Full Screen
1 / 4

From left, Members of European Parliament, David McAllister, Andreas Schieder, Christophe Hansen and Bernd Lange participate in a media conference after a debate on the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement at the European Parliament in Brussels, Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool via AP)

BRUSSELS – European Union leaders, their British counterparts and European businesses expressed hope Wednesday that the final ratification of the post-Brexit trade deal will open a new, positive era of cooperation despite the many divisive topics remaining between the former partners.

After European lawmakers overwhelmingly ratified the agreement ensuring that free trade continues between the two sides without tariffs and quotas, U.K. Prime minister Boris Johnson said the vote marked the “final step in a long journey, providing stability to our new relationship with the EU as vital trading partners, close allies and sovereign equals."

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the accord's “faithful implementation is essential" while EU Council chief Charles Michel welcomed the beginning of a “new era."

Relations between the EU and the U.K. have been strained since a Brexit transition period ended on Jan. 1. The two sides have argued so far this year over issues ranging from violations of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, COVID-19 vaccine supplies to the full diplomatic recognition of the EU in Britain.

EU lawmakers approved the final ratification of the deal nearly five years after Britain decided to leave the bloc. The deal, which was finalized on Christmas Eve, had already been ratified by the U.K. Parliament and conditionally came into force pending the European Parliament’s approval, which marks the final legal hurdle.

Lawmakers at the European Parliament voted 660-5 with 32 abstentions to endorse the free trade agreement. Voting took place Tuesday but results were not announced until Wednesday morning.

EU legislators said in a resolution accompanying their consent that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU was a “historic mistake, as no third country can enjoy the same benefits as an EU member.”

The United Kingdom joined the bloc in 1973, and its citizens decided in a June 2016 referendum to pull out of the bloc. In a debate ahead of Tuesday's ratification vote, many EU lawmakers rued Britain’s departure but insisted that approving the text was the best option to avoid economic disruptions and ensure the integrity of the EU’s single market.