With just days until the deadline, the United Kingdom and European Union agreed to a post-Brexit trade deal Thursday, signaling the end of a four-year saga that engulfed British politics and exposed a deep cultural divide that shows no signs of healing.
"I'm very pleased to tell you this afternoon that we have completed our biggest trade deal yet," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a televised press conference, championing the agreement that he said would be worth 660 billion pounds a year (about $890 billion).
The deal "achieves something that the people of this country instinctively knew was doable but which they were told was impossible," he said. "We've taken back control of our laws and our destiny."
Still, Johnson added: "Although we have left the European Union, this country will remain culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically, geographically attached to Europe."
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the E.U.'s executive branch, said at a separate news conference: "It was a long and winding road but we have got a good deal to show for it."
She said rather than joy she merely felt "satisfaction and relief," telling the British that "parting is such sweet sorrow" and urging the rest of Europe, "it is time to leave Brexit behind."
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Many experts welcomed the deal as a compromise and a good outcome for both sides — particularly given the alternative. It came just days before a deadline of Dec. 31 — after which the U.K. would have left E.U. rules without an agreement at all.
This "no-deal Brexit" is widely regarded as a nightmare scenario that would seriously hurt economies and cause logistical chaos on both sides.
Johnson's deal will not avoid friction. It is what experts call a "hard Brexit" free trade agreement. It focuses largely on quotas and tariffs but will likely not avoid regulatory checks on goods at the border, something that experts have warned could cause disruption at ports, meaning price rises and even shortages.