‘Europe is now moving on’: Von der Leyen and Barnier hail Brexit deal with swipe at ‘sovereignty’

‘We should cut through the soundbites and ask ourselves what sovereignty actually means in the 21st century’, EU chief says

Vincent Wood
Thursday 24 December 2020 17:12 GMT
Ursula von der Leyen takes swipe at British idea of sovereignty

Ursula von der Leyen has declared  Europe is “moving on” after securing a trade agreement with the UK in the final step of the Brexit process.

Appearing at a press conference to announce an agreement had been brokered between London and Brussels, the European Commission president said that while the UK remained a “trusted partner” it was time for the continent to “look to the future”.

The accord follows years of deadlock between the two sides in the wake of UK’s narrow decision to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.

The eleventh-hour deal, which is yet to be scrutinised by politicians on either side, was agreed just eight days before the New Year deadline — and constitutes the biggest trade agreement either has ever brokered.

“We have finally found an agreement”, Ms Von der Leyen said. “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.”

The EU leader announced the agreement included agreements on “fair” competition between the two sides, cooperation on areas of shared interest including “climate change, energy, security and transport”, and “five and a half years of predictability for our fishing communities”.

Focussing on the ideology behind the UK’s departure from the EU, she added: “Of course, this whole debate has always been about sovereignty.

“But we should cut through the soundbites and ask ourselves what sovereignty actually means in the 21st century.

“It about pooling our strength and speaking together in a world full of great powers.

“In a time of crisis, it is about pulling each other up instead of trying to get back to your feet alone.”

Explaining the contents of the agreement, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier listed two personal regrets: the end to the UK’s part in the Erasmus scheme which facilitates student exchanges; and the lack of agreement on foreign policy, defence and development.

He is set to lay out the contents of the deal in a briefing to EU ambassadors on Christmas morning.

Mr Barnier said: “Over four-and-a-half years, we have worked together to build this agreement stage by stage, firstly the Withdrawal Agreement which enabled us to stabilise peace, to consolidate peace in Northern Ireland, to protect citizens’ rights, to resolve financial issues.

“And then, in full transparency, in good mutual respect and in the spirit of dialogue we’ve continued working on for nine months, which is a very short time span to reach this partnership agreement for the future, which is unprecedented in terms of its scope and its complexity.

“Over these four and a half years, the European Union has shown unity, that is its strength, unity and solidarity between all member states and with the European Parliament.

“It has been a great honour for me to be part of this European unity.”

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