MEPs on two key committees vote in favour of EU-UK trade deal

Emma Bowden, PA
·4-min read

MEPs on two key committees have voted by an “overwhelming majority” to recommend that the European Parliament gives its consent to the EU-UK trade deal.

The parliament’s trade and foreign affairs committees voted on Thursday, in the second to last step in the parliamentary ratification process of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement.

However, a date for a final vote to ratify the deal in a plenary session of the European Parliament has not yet been set, after Brussels postponed it amid concerns about the implementation of the earlier Withdrawal Agreement.

At the extraordinary meeting, MEPs on the committees voted to give their consent to the agreement – with 108 votes in favour, one against and four abstentions.

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David McAllister, chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said the two committees had backed the trade deal “with an overwhelming majority”.

The German MEP said on Twitter that “it is the responsibility of both sides to make the best out it”, adding: “Unfortunately, the agreement is not completely exhaustive.

“For example, it does not include a chapter on co-operation in foreign policy, security and defence.

“Therefore, more work will obviously need to be done to broaden and deepen the new EU-UK relationship in the upcoming years.”

The Trade and Co-operation Agreement, reached by Prime Minister Boris Johnson with Brussels on Christmas Eve, has been in place provisionally since the start of the year.

The UK agreed to extend the provisional application until the end of April following the row over the Withdrawal Agreement – the Brexit divorce deal which includes the Northern Ireland Protocol.

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Austrian MEP Andreas Schieder called Brexit a “historic mistake” but said the two sides needed to “establish a strong fundament for future relations” following the committees’ decision to ratify the deal.

“With today’s decision, we welcome the provisions that bind the UK to our current high labour and environmental standards,” said the foreign affairs committee member.

“However, all progress could be lost if the UK continues to unilaterally breach the Withdrawal Agreement and the protocol on Northern Ireland.”

Under the terms of the protocol, Northern Ireland remained part of the EU’s single market for goods, meaning products arriving from Great Britain face EU import regulations.

The UK unilaterally extended grace periods covering areas of the economy to help retailers in Northern Ireland struggling with supplies, meaning post-Brexit checks are not yet fully applied.

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The first of the grace periods had been due to expire at the end of March but the UK extended them until October, in a move which has triggered a legal row with the EU.

In a fresh bid to resolve the problems with the trade arrangements in Northern Ireland, Brexit minister Lord Frost is due to hold talks over dinner in Brussels with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic as they attempt to iron out differences over the protocol.

Lord Frost (Aaron Chown/PA)
Lord Frost (Aaron Chown/PA)

The protocol has been blamed as a factor behind the recent upsurge in violence in loyalist areas amid concerns in those communities that it has weakened their place in the UK.

The measures are intended to protect the EU single market while maintaining an open land border between the North and the Republic in line with the Good Friday peace process.

However, critics have warned that the way it has been implemented has given rise to renewed sectarian tensions, at the same time as hampering the free flow of goods within the UK.

Relations between London and Brussels were further strained after the EU announced last month it was taking legal action in response to a unilateral decision by the UK to extend a series of “grace periods” intended to ease the introduction of the new controls.

Ahead of Thursday evening’s meeting between Lord Frost and Mr Sefcovic, an EU spokesman said they would “take stock of ongoing technical work” on the protocol.

A UK Government spokesman said there were still “significant differences” which needed to be resolved if they were to rebuild confidence in the agreement among communities in Northern Ireland.

Mr Sefcovic welcomed the vote by the European Parliament committees, saying the Trade and Co-operation Agreement “is beneficial for our citizens and businesses, while establishing a level playing field and effective governance to enforce it”.

Before talks with the deputy commission chief in Brussels, Lord Frost and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis met Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney “as part of regular bilateral engagement”, Downing Street confirmed.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was also due to meet Mr Coveney in the afternoon.