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U.K. And EU Agree To A New Free Trade Deal, As U.K. Finalizes Brexit


After four and a half often excruciating years, the United Kingdom is about to complete its divorce from the European Union. Today the two agreed to a new free trade deal with just a week to spare before the Brexit transition period ends on New Year's Eve. For more, we're joined by NPR's London correspondent Frank Langfitt.

Hi, Frank.


SHAPIRO: So what's in this deal?

LANGFITT: Well, there's some good things, and there are also some things that are not so great. It allows British businesses to export into the European Union tariff and quota-free, which they'll be very relieved by. But it's a thin deal. It doesn't really do much, as far as we can tell, on services, which are 80% of the economy. And economists say that under this deal, in fact, the per capita income of this country is going to grow about 6.4% slower than it would have if the U.K. had stayed in the EU.

SHAPIRO: The U.K. has been integrated into the European economy for decades. And so what's British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying about the deal today?

LANGFITT: Johnson's saying it's a good deal, good for British businesses, best of both worlds. They'll still be able to access the European market, and at the same time, the U.K. will be able to be independent of the Brussels bureaucracy and the EU and be able to sort of go out and chart its own future. And what he says is this really delivers on the 2016 Brexit campaign promise.


PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: We've taken back control of our laws and our destiny. We've taken back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation in a way that is complete and unfettered.

SHAPIRO: And what are the leaders of the European Union saying about this?

LANGFITT: In Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, she struck a much more reflective tone. Normally, she says, she's pretty joyful after these things get finished. But today, she felt more relief, and she suggested some sadness.


URSULA VON DER LEYEN: I know this is a difficult day for some. And to our friends in the United Kingdom, I want to say, parting is such sweet sorrow.

LANGFITT: And she had a message to people in Europe, which she said was, it's time to leave Brexit behind. Our future is made in Europe. And there's a really strong message there that, really, while Europe will remain friendly with the U.K., they're on a different path.

SHAPIRO: All right, so this takes effect New Year's Eve. How easy will it be for British companies to keep exporting into Europe?

LANGFITT: Well, a lot easier if there hadn't been any deal at all, in which there would have been tariffs, which would have caused a lot of problems. There will be new customs requirements. And I think there could be some slowdowns, maybe some backups at the port. We've already seen this week, because of COVID-19 requirements, because of that variant that seems to be much more infectious, thousands of truckers actually around the Port of Dover were backed up because France had closed down the border.

SHAPIRO: This is a turning point in Europe. With Brexit, the EU loses a crucial partner. In the U.K., Brexit split the country. What are the longer-term implications?

LANGFITT: Well, I think in Europe, basically, this weakens Europe, certainly from many people's perspective, and, of course, America, a close ally of many, many countries in Europe. So bad news for the United States. It's also a threat - many people here think of the future of the United Kingdom. You know, Scotland voted to stay in the EU. They're very angry about this. And it's actually breathed new life into a push for independence. And that could be the big challenge that Boris Johnson faces next year if there's a push up in Scotland for another independence referendum.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR London correspondent Frank Langfitt.

Thank you, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.