On 30 December 2020, the European Union and the United Kingdom signed the “EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement” (EU-UK TCA or the Agreement) setting out the terms for their future economic and commercial relations after the UK definitively leaves the EU Single Market and Customs Union on January 1, 2021.
The British Parliament approved the deal by a large majority on the same day. The EU will provisionally apply the Agreement until the European Parliament delivers its approval sometime in February or March.
The Agreement comes after a year of fractious and often acrimonious negotiations. Unsurprisingly, given the context and the premises for the negotiations set down by the UK from the start, the deal is more a divorce agreement than a springboard for closer economic ties.
The latter ambition would be typical in any other trade negotiation: the usual point of trade deals is to facilitate greater fluidity of exchange, and therefore greater economic integration, between two hitherto relatively separate economic spaces.
Yet here, the parties took as a starting point 45 years of deep economic, legal and social integration between the UK and the rest of the EU. Political events in the UK having precipitated its withdrawal from the EU, the EU-UK TCA is the trade equivalent of a separation agreement between an old married couple. The legacy of economic, social and security arrangements going back decades dictate that the “leaving” party cannot make an entirely clean break with its former partner. For its part, the other party seeks to protect its interests, including putting in place mechanisms to manage relations with its former partner going forward. All of these elements are reflected in the terms of this Great Divorce. And, as is typical of divorce, the immediate effect is likely to leave both parties worse off.