EU-UK trade deal moves toward ratification in European Parliament

The European Parliament’s foreign affairs and trade committees approved the EU-U.K. trade deal Thursday, moving the post-Brexit agreement a step closer to full ratification in the chamber.

The trade deal passed with an overwhelming 108 votes in favor, one vote against and four abstentions.

Earlier this week, leading MEPs once again refused to set a date to fully ratify the deal in plenary, saying they would wait until London gives reassurances it will apply the agreement. Political group leaders had decided in March to postpone their ratification vote after the U.K. unveiled plans to unilaterally extend grace periods on post-Brexit customs checks at Northern Ireland’s ports for at least six months.

“All progress could be lost, if the UK continues to unilaterally breach the Withdrawal Agreement and the Protocol on Northern Ireland,” said MEP Andreas Schieder, the rapporteur on the file for the foreign affairs committee, from the center-left Socialists & Democrats group. “We look forward to a workable plan on the implementation of the protocol.”

Both sides have been applying the deal provisionally since January 1, pending EU parliamentary scrutiny and ratification. But the temporary application period will lapse on April 30, meaning the European Parliament would have to greenlight the deal this month or risk causing major disruption in EU-U.K. trade relations and cooperation.

“No responsible politician will be able to justify [withholding ratification] after April because if we don’t ratify it, we will be back to zero, and the agreement will not be effective anymore, so this would damage majorly both economies,” said Christophe Hansen from the center-right EPP group, rapporteur for the trade committee.

Key MEPs are set meet on April 22 and to potentially schedule the plenary vote.

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