Despite sign-off, we are a long way off Brexit lift off

Despite sign-off, we are a long way off Brexit lift off

And so we have sign off.

During a Sunday morning meeting in Brussels the 27 leaders of the European Union, along with British prime-minister Theresa May endorsed the draft withdrawal agreement.

Although there were a few last minute wobbles - which was to be expected from the UK but less so from Spain - the deal was signed off on without much fuss in the end.

The leaders had barely entered the cocoon of the egg-shaped EU Council room when word rippled out that the single item on the agenda of this special and hasily called meeting had been dealt with.

A momentous occasion.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves, there will still be many more unexpected plot twists in the Brexit saga.

If the Brexiteers, the Remainers and all in between thought the process which led to a finalised draft withdrawal agreement was fraught, wait until they get to the future relationship talks.

It is clear that the UK will go into trade talks with one main aim - to put their own interests first.

In a press briefing, Theresa May used the phrase "in our national interest" six times in her opening statement.

Asked if she shared the sadness expressed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders, Mrs May said: "Well no.

After the laughter of the mainly British journalists in the room subsided, she added: "But I recognise that others do, I recognise that some European leaders are sad at this moment, but also some people back home in the UK will be sad at this moment.

"The way I look at is actually this is for us to move on to the next stage, I am full of optimism for this country and I believe that we can with this good deal with the European Union we will remain friends and neighbours."

The meeting also got sign off on a political declaration - a rough outline for future talks on a trade agreement, which will only be hammered out during a 21-month transition period that is due begin after Brexit happens on 29 March.

The political declaration "establishes the parameters of an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership across trade and economic cooperation, law enforcement and criminal justice, foreign policy, security and defence and wider areas of cooperation".

But in reality it is only a vague document and barely touches on the nitty gritty of any real trade deal.

Whoever is tasked with steering these trade negotiations faces a difficult and protracted challenge.

While the 36 -page political declaration makes neutral reference to fishing, it merely states that both "parties should cooperate bilaterally and internationally to ensure fishing at sustainable levels, promote resource conservation, and foster a clean, healthy and productive marine environment."

It also notes that the UK will be an independent coastal state.

If only it were that simple.

Despite sign-off, we are a long way off Brexit lift off

Fishing and the right to fish in UK waters is just one of many contentious issues that are likely to hit significant roadblocks in any future relationship talks.

Currently, the EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) gives all European fishing fleets equal access to EU waters and fishing grounds and allows fishermen to compete fairly based on a quota system.

The UK and especially the Brexiteers will be fighting hard to claim back their own waters by excluding European trawlers.

Trade deals are notoriously complicated to get across the line.

Earlier this year, Europe agreed an economic partnership agreement with Japan a process that had began back in 2013.

And while talks on an agreement between the United States and the EU also began back in 2013 the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, still has to be fully hammered out.

Even when a trade deal with the UK is struck, it will then have to face the final hurdle of parliament ratification, which introduces the possibility of another 'Wallonia problem'.

Wallonia - a small region in Belgium which before October of 2016 was virtually unknown to anyone living outside of its territory, became the subject of much attention when its lawmakers voted to block an EU-Canada trade deal.

The small French-speaking enclave in southern Belgium held the already delayed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) deal to ransom.

An official signing of the CETA pact was cancelled as the endorsement of all EU member states was required. Wallonia eventually backed down and CETA received the approval of all member state parliaments.

Any post-Brexit trade deal that is negotiated between Europe and the UK will face the same process.

But we are all getting ahead of ourselves with talks of trade talks, future relationships and parliament ratification.

Before any of this can happen Mrs May will have to get the withdrawal agreement through the House of Commons.

We may have initial sign-off, but we are still a long way off Brexit lift off.

More on this topic

Boris Johnson: Britain will become global, trail-blazing country after BrexitBoris Johnson: Britain will become global, trail-blazing country after Brexit

US ‘prepared to dedicate a lot of resources’ to post-Brexit trade deal – MnuchinUS ‘prepared to dedicate a lot of resources’ to post-Brexit trade deal – Mnuchin

Boris Johnson hails end of ‘years of argument’ as he signs Withdrawal AgreementBoris Johnson hails end of ‘years of argument’ as he signs Withdrawal Agreement

Michelin-starred chef ‘refused permission to stay in UK after Brexit’Michelin-starred chef ‘refused permission to stay in UK after Brexit’