The European Parliament will vote on a post-Brexit trade deal agreed between Britain and the EU next Tuesday after political leaders backed down on a threat not to ratify the accord due to British changes in Northern Ireland trading arrangements.
EU lawmakers are expected to back the trade and cooperation agreement overwhelmingly, a final step in its approval, but there had been some doubt whether they would do so in time.
Political group leaders agreed on Thursday to put the vote on the deal and a related resolution to the parliament’s full chamber next Tuesday. Parliamentary committees last week backed the trade deal by 108 votes to one.
Parliament faces an end-April deadline, but has said it wants to see Britain move on implementing the Northern Ireland protocol, part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement covering the special position of the British-owned province.
If there were no vote this month and provisional application of the agreement were not extended, then the trade deal would cease to apply, leaving Britain and the European Union to trade with tariffs and quotas.
Northern Ireland has remained in the EU single market for goods to ensure a continued open border with EU member Ireland, but this requires checks on goods coming from other parts of the United Kingdom into the province.
In March, Britain unilaterally extended until October a grace period on certain checks, prompting legal action from the European Commission.
The Brexit impact on Northern Ireland has helped fuel the worst violence in the province for years, but EU-UK rhetoric has dialled down and both sides have agreed to intensify talks to overcome differences.
“However, the UK government should not misinterpret this as a sign that we are letting our guard down,” said Andreas Schieder, one of the lawmakers in charge of the file.
He said the parliament was strengthening its hand because the trade deal included potential sanctions, such as restricting market access.