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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson signs the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the U.K. and the EU, at 10 Downing Street, in central London, on Dec. 30, 2020.LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

The British Parliament has overwhelmingly approved a comprehensive agreement covering Britain’s future relationship with the European Union, but the debate over Brexit is far from over.

MPs voted 521 to 73 Wednesday to back the deal, which was unveiled on Christmas Eve by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The 1,200-page document covers everything from trade and security to nuclear power, transportation and fishing rights.

Mr. Johnson hailed the agreement as the start of a new era for Britain and the end of decades of dissension over its place in Europe. “What we wanted was not a rupture but a resolution,” he told the House of Commons during a debate Wednesday before the vote. “A resolution of the old, tired, vexed question of Britain’s political relations with Europe, which has bedevilled our postwar history. … Now with this [agreement] we’re going to become a friendly neighbour, the best friend and ally the EU could have.”

EU officials also welcomed the deal and formally signed it in Brussels. “It is a fair and balanced agreement that fully protects the fundamental interests of the European Union and creates stability and predictability for citizens and companies,” said Charles Michel, head of the European Council, which represents EU leaders.

Although Britain technically left the EU last January, the country has remained inside the bloc’s single market and customs union, which guarantee the free movement of people, goods and services. That ends Dec. 31, and the new agreement will take effect after midnight.

Both sides will now be bracing for the changes that will come on Jan. 1. For the first time in decades, British and EU exporters will face border controls and travellers will have to cope with regulations governing a myriad of issues, including cellphone service, work visas, driver’s licences and pet insurance.

The agreement also leaves many questions unanswered. Financial services, a major part of the British economy, are largely absent from the deal, and the two sides plan further talks on regulatory co-operation. Negotiations surrounding fishing rights have been put off for more than five years and rules for the transfer of data have been delayed.

Trade within parts of Britain will also become more complicated because Northern Ireland will remain largely tied to EU regulations under a separate arrangement that ensures the Irish border stays open.

The treaty also sets up more than 20 committees, councils and working groups to monitor its implementation and handle differences. There are also provisions to review the entire agreement every five years or modify parts of it at any time providing both sides agree.

“Brexit is absolutely not over, and in a sense the most important and the most interesting bits of it are about to start,” said Anand Menon, a professor of European politics at King’s College London and the director of the U.K. in a Changing Europe initiative. “This is just a prelude.”

There is little doubt the agreement is a political victory for Mr. Johnson. He has been campaigning for years for Britain to leave the EU and led the Conservatives to a massive victory in the election last year by promising to “get Brexit done.” While his predecessor, Theresa May, faced relentless opposition from her own backbenchers when she tried to negotiate a Brexit deal in 2019, Mr. Johnson has kept the party united and even got the opposition Labour Party to vote for the agreement Wednesday.

However, analysts said his victory could be short-lived if Brexit doesn’t deliver the benefits he promised. “Going forward the Conservatives are probably a little complacent if they think that this has won them the next election,” said Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London. “People will, as it were, look for the proof of the pudding in the eating rather than just the passing of this [agreement].”

There has already been some grumbling. Organizations representing the fishing industry have accused Mr. Johnson of selling out fishermen and some transport companies have expressed concerns about mounting paperwork. The unity of the country has also been strained.

Legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland passed resolutions Wednesday criticizing the agreement, and the Scottish National Party (SNP) has intensified its call for another referendum on independence.

Scotland voted against sovereignty in 2014, 55 per cent to 45 per cent, but recent polls have put the yes side above 50 per cent. The ruling SNP wants an independent Scotland to rejoin the EU, and the party is expected to increase its seat total in elections in 2021.

That will put pressure on Mr. Johnson to agree to a referendum, something he has opposed. “I think Johnson will face an incredible amount of moral pressure from the Scots, if the SNP wins the election convincingly, to hold a referendum,” Dr. Bale said.

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