After months of talks and at almost the last minute, Britain and the European Union struck a provisional free-trade agreement Thursday that should avert New Year chaos for cross-border traders and bring a measure of certainty for businesses after years of Brexit turmoil. With just over a week until the UK's final split from the EU, the British government said the "deal is done," adding that the deal was "the first free-trade agreement based on zero tariffs and zero quotas that has ever been achieved with the EU," per the AP. EU officials also confirmed an agreement had been reached. Months of tense and often testy negotiations gradually whittled differences between the two sides down to three key issues: fair-competition rules, mechanisms for resolving future disputes, and fishing rights.
Despite the breakthrough, however, key aspects of the future relationship between the 27-nation bloc and its former member remain uncertain. The British and European parliaments both must hold votes on the agreement, though the latter may not happen until after the UK leaves the EU's economic embrace on Jan. 1. It has been 4 1/2 years since Britons voted 52%-48% to leave the EU. The UK has remained part of the single market and customs union during an 11-month post-Brexit transition period. As a result, many people so far will have noticed little impact from Brexit. On Jan. 1, the breakup will start feeling real. No longer will goods and people be able to move freely between the UK and its continental neighbors. EU nationals will no longer be able to live and work in Britain without visas, and Britons can no longer automatically work or retire in EU nations.
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