After many months of doubt and drama, the UK and the EU were finally able to seal a deal in extremis to avoid a break-up, and they did it the hard way. The handshake came on 24 December, just a week before the end of the transition period. And so, on Christmas Eve, more than four decades of British membership of the European Union came to an end.
See: How workers in Spain and the UK are dealing with their particular Brexit
After reviewing a copy of the text of the agreement — over 1,000 pages of dense legal text — here are our impressions on 10 key issues in the agreement:
Undoubtedly one of the most difficult issues of the negotiations. In fact, one only has to look at how far apart the positions of the two negotiators were: the UK wanted an 80% reduction in the value of catches by EU vessels in its waters, while the EU proposed an 18% reduction. For its part, the EU proposed a reduction of 18%. What did it end up with? Well, 25%.
This cut will be introduced gradually over a transitional period of five and a half years, a timeframe in which the EU gave a lot of ground. After that time, the UK will have full control over its waters and will be able to make whatever cuts it wants. In this case, the EU will be able to compensate its fishermen by applying tariffs to British fish products, or by preventing vessels from the islands from fishing in EU waters. We shall see.
2— El "campo de juego”, nivelado
One of the EU's key demands when signing the agreement was to maintain certain fair competition rules. That is, a regulatory framework whereby companies on one side do not gain unfair advantages over their competitors on the other side. This is where, for example, certain stipulated levels of state aid for companies come in.
However, nowhere is there any guarantee that these rules will be identical in the future. And unlike in the past, the UK will be able to develop a system that only takes decisions once evidence of unfair competition is presented.
3— Dispute resolution
There are years of negotiations on this issue ahead. For what will happen if either party breaches any of the terms and conditions, and what kind of retaliation might there be for such breaches?
For now, the agreement contains a mechanism called the "rebalancing clause", which gives both the EU and the UK the right to take measures (e.g. tariffs), siempre y cuando existan divergencias significativas. Dicho mecanismo fue una demanda clave del lado europeo y, por lo visto, es mucho más estricto que las medidas que se encuentran en otros acuerdos comerciales de la UE.
There will be a system of binding arbitration in this regard, involving officials from both parties involved.
4— Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ)
Here, it was the UK negotiating team that drew a red line. The British government said that the ECJ's jurisdiction over the UK would come to an end. And so it will, at least in part.
Europe's highest court will not play a direct role in overseeing the agreement in the future. But in return, it will have a predominant role in Northern Ireland, a UK territory that will have a special status in the withdrawal agreement. As Northern Ireland will remain subject to the rules of the EU's single market and customs union, the ECJ will remain the highest legal authority for some disputes in the UK.
There are major changes here. For a start, UK citizens will need a visa if they want to stay in the EU for more than 90 days in any 180-day period. They will, however, still be able to use the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card), which will remain valid until it expires. And pending a new card, the UK government's advice to its citizens is to take out travel insurance with medical cover before the holiday, especially if there are pre-existing medical conditions.
EU pet passports will no longer be valid, and a new, more complicated process will be created. In addition, although both sides agreed to cooperate on roaming, UK travellers may have to pay to use their phone in the EU and vice versa.
Finally, it appears that British citizens will not need an International Driving Permit to drive in the EU. They will, however, need a green card to prove that they have adequate vehicle insurance.
6— Financial services
The UK's great hope with this agreement was that the EU would issue "equivalence" decisions on financial services in the near future, but services firms in general have not received as much help as the UK was seeking.
Although a process is underway to seek such "equivalence", it is likely that some financial services firms will have to apply to certain EU countries to be allowed to operate there. The access that UK firms had to the EU single market is now a thing of the past.
Very important issue. Another issue where the UK is awaiting the EU to issue "a data adequacy decision" that, as in the case of financial services, recognises the UK's rules as equivalent to its own. But the details here will be of the utmost importance.
Both the EU and the UK want data to flow across their borders as smoothly as possible, but the agreement places particular emphasis on the right of citizens to protection of their privacy. Thus, the EU's decision to recognise that the UK's data rules are the same as its own is of paramount importance.
For now, the EU body has agreed to a "specific period" of four months, extendable for a further two months, in which data can be exchanged in the same way as before Brexit. Provided, of course, that the UK makes no changes to its data protection rules.
8— Normas de productos
A new wave of bureaucracy is going to take over the English Channel, however much it may not be the same as it was half a century ago. And while there is no clear list of new barriers to trade between the EU and the UK, what is clear is that there will be some.
For example, if, from now on, you want to sell your product in the UK from the EU, or vice versa, you will most likely have to check it twice to get it certified. There has also been no agreement so far on mutual recognition of health and safety standards for the export of food of animal origin, which will lead to rather intrusive and costly controls.
However, it is true that there will be some measures to reduce technical barriers to trade. There is, for example, the mutual recognition of trusted trading schemes, which will make it easier for large companies to operate across borders.
9— Professional qualifications
One of the key questions following the deal was: will UK professional qualifications be recognised across the EU (and vice versa) in the future?
The short answer is no. Qualifications will not be automatically recognised. Professionals on either side will have to apply to try to have their qualifications accepted, with no guarantee of success. And while there is a framework in the agreement for the UK and the EU to mutually recognise individual qualifications, it is much weaker than what professionals have had so far.
And it wasn't just about trade, because with Brexit the UK will lose automatic access to a variety of EU databases that the police use every day. These covered things like criminal records, fingerprints and wanted persons.
In exchange for losing access to some very important databases, the UK will retain its entry for other systems, such as continent-wide fingerprint checking. In any case, security cooperation will no longer be based on 'real-time' access.
On the other hand, agreement has been reached on extradition and on the UK's role in Europol, the European cross-border security agency. Disagreements on this issue will be dealt with by a new committee, not the European Court of Justice — again, a red line for the UK.
There are many other questions to be answered — this deal will be the basis of UK-EU relations for years, if not decades to come. And both sides will have to stay at the negotiating table on how to most effectively maintain their new relationship.
See: Brexit: What will the life of Europeans and British be like from now on?
In any case, our team will continue to read the text of the agreement and will add new content to this story if deemed necessary.
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