The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to approve the post-Brexit trade deal between the EU and the UK, bringing to a conclusion years of negotiations to establish a new relationship between London and Brussels.
The parliament gave its consent to the deal by a vote of 660 to five, with 32 abstentions, a necessary final step for the deal to come into force permanently, and closing a chapter on what MEPs described in a resolution as a “historic mistake”.
British prime minister Boris Johnson welcomed the ratification as providing a more stable foundation for the relationship.
“This week is the final step in a long journey, providing stability to our new relationship with the EU as vital trading partners, close allies and sovereign equals,” Mr Johnson said in a statement.
“Now is the time to look forward to the future and to building a more global Britain.”
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the vote and said the Trade and Co-operation Agreement "marks the foundation of a strong and close partnership with the UK".
In an acknowledgement of EU concerns about the British prime minister’s approach to deals with Brussels, she warned that “faithful implementation is essential”.
Several MEPs expressed concern over whether the British government would stick to the agreement. Alongside the vote to approve the deal, the parliament passed a resolution condemning the UK’s “recent unilateral actions, in breach of the Withdrawal Agreement, to extend grace periods”.
It also called “on the UK government to act in good faith and fully implement the agreements which it has signed”.
Checks in North
The British government's decision to continue not to enforce some checks on goods between Britain and Northern Ireland triggered legal action by the European Commission, in a rocky start for the North's new arrangements that continues to play out.
Christophe Hansen, a Luxembourg MEP in the centre-right European People's Party group – to which Fine Gael is affiliated – and who is rapporteur for the Committee on International Trade, said the deal would help hold Britain to its commitments.
“Ratification of the agreement is not a vote of blind confidence in the UK Government’s intention to implement our agreements in good faith,” Mr Hansen said in a statement. “Rather, it is an EU insurance policy against further unilateral deviations from what was jointly agreed.”
Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne described the vote as "an important milestone" that "minimises, as best we can, the negative effects of Brexit".
"We will continue working hard to find a constructive path forward for all communities in Northern Ireland, " Mr Byrne wrote on social media. "The relationship that existed during UK's membership of the EU will be hard to replace, but we are committed to providing all of the supports necessary to maintain continuity where we can, and navigate the new unavoidable changes, affecting our shared island and shared future."
The deal had been provisionally applied until now and was due to lapse on April 30th, and some formalities will take place over the coming days before the process is finally concluded.