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Britain and E.U. form Brexit deal, averting a chaotic breakup

Following nine months of tense negotiations, Britain and the European unions have at last hammered out a post-Brexit trade deal. The agreement averts a chaotic and costly breakup. Amna Nawaz spoke with Robin Niblett, director of the British think tank Chatham House, to learn more on the breakthrough.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Following nine months of tense final negotiations, Britain and the European Union have at last hammered out a post-Brexit trade deal.

    The agreement will ensure that Britain and the 27-nation bloc can continue trading goods without tariffs or quotas after the U.K. leaves the E.U. on New Year's Day. And it paints a clearer picture of Britain's future four-and-a-half years after its residents voted to exit the bloc.

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

    We have taken back control of our laws and our destiny.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In London today, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson celebrated the breakthrough.

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

    We have also today resolved a question that has bedeviled our politics for decades. And it is up to us, all together, as a newly and truly independent nation, to realize the immensity of this moment.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The trade deal between Britain and the E.U. averts a chaotic and costly breakup on New Year's Day, the deadline to complete the separation Brits voted for in 2016.

    In Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen marked the moment with relief.

  • Ursula von der Leyen:

    It was a long and winding road. But we have got a good deal to show for it. It is fair, it is a balanced deal, and it is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Negotiators worked through the night, with last-minute wrangling over fishing rights in Britain's coastal waters. The deal sets the term for more than $900 billion in trade free of quotas and tariffs.

    But it will also mean layers of new bureaucracy, with paperwork and inspections for every item sold across the border. Both sides still need to ratify the deal, and all 27 E.U. countries will need to sign off. In Germany, the bloc's largest economy, Chancellor Angela Merkel said a decision would come quickly.

    And French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that — quote — "European unity and firmness have paid off."

    If approved, today's agreement will end the years-long divorce, disentangling economies still dependent on each other.

    For more on the breakthrough between the United Kingdom and the European Union, we turn to Robin Niblett, the director of the British think tank Chatham House.

    Robin Niblett, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    We should say, many people have tried and failed and tried and failed to reach a deal. What was it about right now? How were they able to get this across the finish line?

  • Robin Niblett:

    They were able to get it across the finish line because they had to by the 31st of December. Otherwise, the U.K. would have dropped out of the market arrangements it had kept since it left the E.U. a year ago, and we would have had chaos at the borders, which would have been bad for the U.K., but bad also for the rest of the European Union and the many countries that rely on the U.K. market.

    The U.K., in a way, becomes one of the E.U.'s biggest trading partners outside the single market. So, they had to get the deal done, which is why most analysts reckon that some compromises would be made and we would get there.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Deadline is a powerful force indeed.

    But what does this mean now, in practical terms, for citizens of the E.U., for British citizens, everyday life there? What does the deal mean?

  • Robin Niblett:

    For most British citizens, it will make no difference whatsoever. They won't notice anything.

    The part of the world in the U.K. that will be affected by this will be business and, in particular, those businesses that export to the European Union, to continental Europe. That includes, in particular, the car business, for example — 75 percent of U.K. car exports go to the E.U. — pharmaceuticals, agriculture, fisheries.

    For those folks, you will have lots more border restrictions. Even with this new deal, even with zero tariffs, zero quotas, zero quotas, you will have all sorts of standards and regulations that will not be automatically accepted. So, exporters will feel some pain.

    And consumers may feel a little bit of the impact of the price. I think the other part is anyone taking a holiday. Going to Spain, you're now going to have to have a visa — you're going to be on a waiver visa. And you will have to worry about health insurance, all sorts things like that.

    And, obviously, if you want to work in the E.U., well, you can't do it as a Brit. You can't go over there and look for a job, as E.U. citizens come and do in the U.K. up until now. All of that is over. So, you won't feel it day to day, but it will be a different relationship.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, this still needs to be ratified by both the European Parliament, by the British Parliament.

    I have to ask because history is what it is. Is there any chance this falls apart?

  • Robin Niblett:

    I don't think so.

    The British Parliament went through the agony of being unable to come to any alternative other than Brexit, despite, in essence, taking over control from the therm Theresa May government over a year ago. They failed.

    Even the new Labor Party is desperate to get this done and get it out of the way and stop banging on about Europe. And in the E.U. itself, they have got bigger fish to fry. They have got to worry about the COVID crisis. They have got to worry about Russia. They have got to think about a new relationship with the Biden administration.

    They do not want Brexit hanging over into 2021. So, I am 98 percent confident this deal will get done by both sides.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Ninety-eight percent, we will take that, indeed.

    Robin Niblett of the British think thank Chatham House, thank you for joining us.

  • Robin Niblett:

    My pleasure.

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