The end of the transition period, four and a half years after the majority in the UK voted to leave the European Union, is an important moment in the country’s history. After nearly five decades as part of the bloc, the UK will now build a different path.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday that Britain would be a “more open, liberal, outward-looking, internationalist and free trade” country than the EU which would be “free to do things differently, and better if necessary”.
“Our freedom is in our hands and it is in us that we can make the most of it,” Johnson said during his New Year’s address hours before the end of the transition period.
Beginning the debate on the bill on Wednesday, Johnson told MPs that the deal would “open a new chapter” and give the UK “control over our laws and our national goals”.
But critics have warned that Brexit will hurt the UK economy as a result, leaving many businesses unprepared for further change, especially as the nation fears the impact of the coronavirus epidemic.
Now that the UK has left the single market and customs union, goods crossing the border will be subject to customs and other checks. Delays and interruptions can occur as haulers discover they lack the correct paperwork, or new software systems crash under pressure.
The leader of the main opposition Labor Party, Kerr Starmer, warned last week that there were serious questions about the government’s readiness for a new arrangement “after negotiations went down the line”.
He told Labor legislators to support the bill instead of risking the UK’s “disastrous” consequences if there was no trade agreement from the European Union. But Starm said the “thin deal” reached by Johnson’s government does not provide adequate protection for British production, our financial services, creative industries or workplace rights.
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said in a tweet that the clock struck at 11pm UK time, saying Scotland was “soon to Europe.” In the 2016 referendum, the Scots voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, and Brexit added new energy to the Scottish independence struggle.
Gibraltar, an overseas British territory in the southern part of the Berberian Peninsula, was not covered in the EU-UK trade deal.
Just hours before the transition deadline ended on Thursday, Spain and the UK announced that a separate draft agreement had been reached on the post-Brexit situation.
‘Time to put Brexit behind’
The deal is expected to be examined at a later date before formal formal ratification by the European Union by the European Parliament.
The agreement with Brussels marks a new trade and security relationship with the UK’s largest trading partner. It was finally scrapped after months of deadlocks over months like the fishing quota, how the UK would use state aid to support post-Brexit British industries and legal oversight of any deal.
The agreement, which protects quota-free access for Britain’s tariff- and blockchain customers, protects the UK from some of the dire potential consequences of Brexit, as it fights the Lugol epidemic.
The deal also appears to largely cover the trade in goods, where the UK has a deficit with its European Union neighbors, but excludes major service industries such as finance, where it currently has a surplus.
The front pages of some UK newspapers will sound a triumphant note on Thursday despite the potentially rocky roads.
“Britain will finally be liberated from the EU,” the Daily Express reported, while the Times of London announced that “goodbye to all of them after the signing of the Brexit trade agreement.”
But the rising rate of coronavirus infection could pay off the hopes of any Brexit supporter celebrating the end of the transition period on Britain’s streets.
Three-quarters of England’s population is now under the country’s strictest restrictions, aimed at limiting the spread of new, more contagious coronavirus variants.
News of that variant prompted France to stop traveling elsewhere with other European countries. Thousands of trucks were stranded at the British port of Dover in the run-up to Christmas, with some observers fearing it could even preview the potential chaos of the no-deal Brexit.
Meanwhile, the full impact of Brexit on Britain living in the EU as well as EU citizens living in Britain remains to be seen. A bottom-up organization of 3 million EU citizens in the UK has expressed concern over those who must apply to the EU settlement plan by the end of June to protect the UK’s rights.
The agreement in principle between London and Madrid will avoid a tight border between Gibraltar and Spain, Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said in a televised press conference on Thursday.
Many local residents on both sides of the border feared the end of the transition period.
Gonzalez Laya said an interim period of six months was expected until a new treaty was decided. Unlike the rest of the UK, Gibraltar will be part of EAN agreements, such as the Schengen area, allowing free flow of people and goods across member borders.
Gonzalez Laya said Spain would ultimately be responsible for Shenzhen’s application in Gibraltar.
The UK has “warm and strong relations” with Spain, said Dominic Rabe, the UK’s foreign secretary.
“Today, after working closely with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, and having intensive discussions with the Spanish government, we have reached an agreement on the political framework to formulate a separate treaty between the UK and the EU on Gibraltar. We will now begin negotiations on this formal treaty. So send this to the European Commission, “he said.
“In the meantime, all parties are committed to minimizing the effects of the end of the transition period on Gibraltar, and in particular to ensure border fluidity, which is clearly in the interest of those living on both sides.”
CNN’s Vasco Kotovio, Ivana Cottaso, Johnny Hallam and Nim Kennedy contributed to the report.