The European Parliament is to hold a vote next Tuesday on ratifying the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement that defines post-Brexit relations with Britain, European sources told AFP.
If MEPs vote in favour, as expected, it would finalise the adoption of the pact by both sides before a mutually agreed deadline runs out at the end of this month.
Currently, the treaty is provisionally applied, pending the European Parliament’s adoption. British MPs ratified it the day it was signed, on December 30, 2020.
The European Parliament had dragged its feet on holding a vote, in part to protest unilateral moves by London to suspend checks on goods entering Northern Ireland.
The European Commission last month launched a lawsuit against Britain over that decision, which it said violated the Brexit divorce deal struck a year before the trade and cooperation agreement (TCA).
The Brexit deal worked out the rights of EU and British citizens in each other’s territory and notably kept the UK’s Northern Ireland region within the orbit of EU customs rules, with a de facto border for goods down the Irish Sea.
That arrangement, which both sides said was necessary to prevent any border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, has caused trade friction for goods from Britain and triggered violence fuelled by unionist anger.
The TCA handles the broader relationship, ensuring free trade for British-made goods into the EU and vice-versa and establishes rules for cooperating in a number of areas, including fishing, flights and road haulage and, in a very limited way, services.
The document reflects Britain’s decision to go for a hard Brexit from the European Union, opting for independence from the EU’s single market and customs union, and the European Court of Justice, in the name of “sovereignty”.
Diplomatic tensions between London and Brussels have risen in the wake of Brexit.
Britain argues the EU should show greater flexibility in a range of areas, most notably when it comes to Northern Ireland.
The European Commission has said it is willing to do so, but only where there is no possibility of undermining its single market.
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