Brexit: how it started, how it’s going

by Jitendra JOSHI /AFP

LONDON – The European Parliament votes Tuesday on the EU’s divorce settlement with Britain, the 1,246-page Trade and Cooperation Agreement. 

Here is what the post-Brexit pact sets out in key areas, along with problems that have emerged since it took effect on January 1 after 10 months of fierce negotiation:

Tariffs and rules

The deal averted tariffs or quotas on almost all goods produced in the UK and EU.

But British exports must comply with EU health and safety standards and conformity rules, and there are strict rules governing products made with parts originating outside the EU or UK.  

The new standards and attendant bureaucracy are having an impact on trade. 

UK exports of live mussels, cockles, oysters and other shellfish are no longer allowed to enter the EU. Most come from Scotland, and the industry says it is staring at collapse.

Britain’s government, however, says the coronavirus pandemic has been the bigger factor affecting trade since the Brexit deal took effect.


Britain left the EU’s customs union along with the single market, meaning that businesses face new red tape for imports and exports across the Channel.

Official data showed a record 42 percent slump in the value of UK goods exported to the EU in January.

They recovered by 46.6 percent in February, but are still down overall since last year.

Northern Ireland was dealt with under a separate protocol to the Brexit deal, in recognition of the territory’s troubled history and its location sharing a land border with EU member Ireland. 

It is in the UK’s newly restored customs union but remains effectively in the EU’s single market, to eliminate the need for border checks with Ireland. 

Instead, the border checks are applied on goods crossing the Irish Sea from mainland Britain, to the fury of pro-UK unionists who feel betrayed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

The Northern Ireland Protocol has been blamed for near-nightly riots this month, and is the subject of new talks between London and Brussels, although both sides have rejected unionists’ demands to scrap it.

No free movement

UK and EU citizens no longer enjoy free movement to live and work between the two. 

Business travellers do not need a visa for short trips. But musicians, artists and performers were left off that list, meaning they need visas for paid gigs abroad and tours lasting more than 30 days. 

Industry groups say the impact will be far-reaching for British performers wanting to tour multiple EU states, and also their support crews, including haulage companies hired to move stage equipment.

Johnson has insisted the government is “working flat out” to address the issue with individual EU governments.

More than one million Britons living in EU countries have their rights protected under the Brexit deal, but face varying deadlines to apply for settlement visas or face the theoretical risk of deportation.

The three million EU citizens living in Britain must likewise apply by June 30.


The thorny issue of access for EU fishermen to Britain’s rich waters was resolved with a compromise: EU boats will gradually relinquish 25 percent of their current quotas during a five-and-a-half year transition period. 

After that there will be annual negotiations on the amount of fish EU vessels can take from British waters. 

If the UK limits EU access or catches, Brussels can retaliate with tariffs on UK fishing products or other goods — or even suspend much of the trade agreement while keeping fair-competition rules intact. 

Level playing field

The EU insisted on “level playing field” regulations to prevent British firms undercutting European rivals with lower labour, environmental or tax standards, or unfair subsidises.

The UK has set up an independent authority to decide competition law as a counterpart to that role held by the European Commission, with both upholding common principles.

Temporary subsidies responding to a “national or global economic emergency” such as the coronavirus pandemic are not forbidden where “proportionate”.

Courts on each side — including the EU’s European Court of Justice, though it is not specifically named in this part of the treaty — will decide trade remedies for unfair subsidies.

Financial services

The treaty omitted financial services, a leading driver of the UK economy. Last month, both sides agreed to “create the framework for voluntary regulatory cooperation”.

International banks had already decided to prepare for the worst by strengthening their European operations, which allowed for a smooth transition when Britain left the customs union.

But the City of London, which was overtaken by Amsterdam in January as Europe’s largest share trading centre, remains anxious to secure a long-term deal.