The UK-European Union relationship has begun a “new era” after MEPs overwhelmingly backed the post-Brexit trade deal.
The deal, thrashed out by Boris Johnson’s Government and the EU over months of difficult negotiations, was approved by 660 votes to five, with 32 abstentions.
However, business organisations have warned that further work will be necessary to improve the trading arrangements under the terms of the deal.
There are a few remaining formalities which need to be completed before the deal struck by the Prime Minister and the EU on Christmas Eve last year is finally ratified.
‘Now is the time to look forward to the future’
Mr Johnson said: “This week is the final step in a long journey, providing stability to our new relationship with the EU as vital trading partners, close allies and sovereign equals.
“Now is the time to look forward to the future and to building a more global Britain.”
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the vote and said the Trade and Co-operation Agreement “marks the foundation of a strong and close partnership with the UK”.
But in an acknowledgement of EU concerns about the Prime Minister’s approach to deals with Brussels, she warned that “faithful implementation is essential”.
The UK and EU are at odds over the way the earlier Brexit divorce deal is being implemented in Northern Ireland and there have also been rows over coronavirus vaccine supplies and the diplomatic status of the bloc’s ambassador in London.
On Tuesday, Ms von der Leyen said the agreement has “real teeth” and the EU will not hesitate to take action if Mr Johnson breaches its terms.
European Council president Charles Michel said the approval of the deal “marks a major step forward” in UK-EU relations and “opens a new era”.
He said Brussels will work constructively with the UK as an “important friend and partner”.
Brexit Minister Lord Frost said the vote is an “important moment”.
“Today’s vote brings certainty and allows us to focus on the future,” he said.
“There will be much for us and the EU to work on together through the new partnership council and we are committed to working to find solutions that work for both of us.
“We will always aim to act in that positive spirit but we will also always stand up for our interests when we must – as a sovereign country in full control of our own destiny.”
The provisional application of the deal was due to expire at the end of the month but that prospect has now been avoided.
Businesses warn that more needs to be done
Business organisations warned that more needs to be done to improve the way trade flows between the UK and EU under the deal.
Confederation of British Industry director-general Tony Danker said: “Ratification of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement is a decisive step forward, but it’s far from the end of the process for business.
“The next phase is normalising relations between the UK and EU, in order to smooth trade and maximise the benefits of the new economic partnership
Hannah Essex, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “It is now vital that both the UK and EU work together to alleviate the significant disruption and difficulty which many firms continue to report, and with further changes still to come.”
She warned that without further support for businesses “the effects of the deal will weigh on UK economic prospects for some time to come”.
“The UK and the EU must now get back around the table and continue talks so they can build upon the arrangements set out in the TCA to deliver long-term improvements to the flow of trade between them,” she said.