London, January 1
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday hailed the “amazing moment” of the UK’s formal exit from the European Union and in his New Year message voiced his government’s ability to do things “differently” and “better” after leaving the 27-member economic bloc following arduous negotiations.
Despite technically leaving the European Union on January 31, 2020, the UK remained tied to the economic bloc’s rules as a member of the single market and Customs Union, which ended at 11 pm on Thursday night as the UK and EU began a brand-new trading partnership under the terms of a new free trade agreement (FTA).
The UK officially left the EU, three and half years after the UK public voted to leave in the Brexit referendum held in 2016. But it stuck to the EU’s trading rules for 11 months while the two sides intensively negotiated their future economic partnership.
A landmark treaty was finally agreed on Christmas Eve, and became law in the UK on Wednesday.
The end of the Brexit transition period concludes Britain’s membership of the economic bloc on the basis of the last-minute FTA, raced through Parliament to become law after the Queen’s Royal Assent earlier this week.
“This is an amazing moment for this country. We have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it,” said Johnson, who took the UK out of the EU in January six months after becoming prime minister.
“And I think it will be the overwhelming instinct of the people of this country to come together as one United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland working together to express our values around the world,” he said.
In reference to Oxford University’s “beacon of hope” in the form of an approved vaccine against COVID-19, he noted: “As the sun rises on 2021, we have the certainty of those vaccines.
“Pioneered in a UK that is also free to do things differently, and if necessary better, than our friends in the EU. Free to do trade deals around the world. And free to turbocharge our ambition to be a science superpower.
“A new room temperature vaccine that can be produced cheaply and at scale, and that offers literally a new lease of life to people in this country and around the world,” he said.
Under the new arrangements, UK manufacturers will have tariff-free access to the EU’s internal market, meaning there will be no import taxes on goods crossing between Britain and the continent.
But it does mean more paperwork for businesses and people travelling to EU countries, while there is still uncertainty about what will happen to banking and services, the BBC reported.
While the full implications of the new UK-EU FTA will become known in the coming weeks and months, there is some anxiety about the impact on the logistics industry. UK ports, including Dover and the Eurotunnel, have been bracing for delays as a result of new changes that come into force from Friday.
The Northern Ireland protocol agreement with the EU will keep the land border with EU member-country Republic of Ireland free-flowing, after the EU and UK agreed to move new regulatory and customs processes to the Irish Sea, but that means checks are focused on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The end of the Brexit transition period concludes the UK and EU’s years of bitter rowing in the wake of the EU referendum, which saw 17.4 million voters (52 per cent) back Brexit while 16.1 million (48 per cent) voted to stay in the bloc.
The UK’s lengthy divorce from the bloc has dominated the political landscape on both sides since the vote in June 2016 and brought Johnson to power in 2019 with a promise to “get Brexit done”.
While Brexit was at the heart of the UK prime minister’s New Year message, it was largely dominated by references to the hardships brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and the government being forced to tell people “how to live their lives, how long to wash their hands, how many households could meet together”.
“I can imagine that there will be plenty of people who will be only too happy to say goodbye to the grimness of 2020. But just before we do, I want to remind you that this was also the year when we rediscovered a spirit of togetherness, of community,” he said.
And striking an optimistic note, he pointed to the UK’s upcoming leadership of both the G7 and the United Nation’s COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow this year.
“And an open, generous, outward-looking, internationalist and free trading global Britain, that campaigns for 12 years of quality education for every girl in the world; 2021 is the year we can do it, and I believe 2021 is above all, the year when we will eventually do those everyday things that now seem lost in the past,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday said the UK remained a “friend and ally”, but he added that the choice to leave the EU was “the child of European malaise and many lies and false promises”.
President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen said: “It was worth fighting for this deal because we now have a fair and balanced agreement with the UK, which will protect our European interests, ensure fair competition, and provide much needed predictability for our fishing communities.
“Finally, we can leave Brexit behind us and look to the future. Europe is now moving on,” she said on December 24. PTI