LONDON (AP) — First came the Brexit trade deal. Now comes the red tape.
Four days after sealing a free trade agreement with the European Union (EU), the British government warned businesses to get ready for disruptions and “bumpy moments” when the new rules take effect on Thursday night.
Businesses were scrambling yesterday to digest the details and implications of the 1,240-page deal sealed by the EU and the United Kingdom (UK) on December 24.
The UK left the EU almost a year ago, but remained within the bloc’s economic embrace during a transition period that ends at midnight Brussels time – 11pm in London – on December 31.
The agreement, hammered out after nine months of tense negotiations, will ensure Britain and the 27-nation bloc can continue to trade in goods without tariffs or quotas. That should help protect the GBP660 billion in annual trade between the two sides, and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that rely on it.
But the end to Britain’s membership in the EU’s vast single market and customs union will still bring inconvenience and new expenses for both individuals and businesses — from the need for tourists to have travel insurance to the millions of new customs declarations that firms will have to fill out.
“Businesses will need to make sure that they’re ready for new customs procedures and we as individuals will need to make sure that our passports are up to date because they need to have at least six months before expiry on them in order to be able to travel abroad,” said British Cabinet inister in charge of Brexit preparations Michael Gove.
“I’m sure there will be bumpy moments but we are there in order to try to do everything we can to smooth the path,” he told the BBC.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government argues that any short-term disruption from Brexit will be worth it, because the UK will now be free to set its own rules and strike new trade deals around the world.
Both the British and European Parliaments still need to vote on the Brexit trade deal. Britain’s Parliament is set to deliver its verdict tomorrow, but the EU legislature will not make a decision until after January 1.
Despite the deal, uncertainty hangs over huge chunks of the relationship between Britain and the EU. The agreement covers trade in goods, but leaves the UK’s huge financial services sector in limbo, still uncertain how easily it can do business with the bloc after January 1. The British territory of Gibraltar, which sees thousands of workers cross over daily from Spain, is also in limbo since it was not included in the deal.