European Union ambassadors were convening to start assessing the massive free-trade deal that the bloc struck with Britain, which should begin next week when the acrimonious Brexit divorce process finally comes to an end.
After the deal was announced on Thursday, EU nations already showed support for the outcome and it was expected that they would unanimously back the agreement, a prerequisite for its legal approval.
Speedily approving the deal is essential, as a transition period in which Britain continues to trade by EU rules despite its Jan. 31 departure runs out on New Year’s Day
The British parliament is expected to approve the deal in the coming days, but the agreement must be applied provisionally, as the European Parliament can only give its consent next month at the earliest. There, too, approval is expected.
The strong showing of unity is testament to EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who has worked relentlessly to keep all EU nations and the groups within the European Parliament in the loop of developments throughout the torturous negotiations.
It took more than three years of wrangling before Britain left the bloc’s political structures in January. Disentangling the two sides’ economies and reconciling Britain’s desire for independence with the EU’s aim of preserving its unity took months longer.
The two sides claim that the 2,000-page agreement protects their cherished goals.
Britain said that it gives the UK control over its money, borders, laws and fishing grounds, while the EU said that it protects the EU’s single market and contains safeguards to ensure that Britain does not unfairly undercut the bloc’s standards.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that although the UK would become a “third country,” it would be a trusted partner.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that it was a “good deal for the whole of Europe, and for our friends and partners as well.”
Leaders around the continent were quick to herald the accord. Irish Taoiseach Micheal Martin — whose EU member state would have been hard hit by a no-deal — said that the accord was the “least bad version of Brexit possible.”