Boris Johnson has hailed a historic trade deal struck with the EU as a “new beginning” for Britain that resolves the European question that has “bedevilled” British politics for generations.
Following months of negotiations, an agreement was finally struck on Christmas Eve between the two sides with the Prime Minister subsequently announcing the UK had “taken back control” of its future.
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer branded it a “thin” deal – even though he admitted his party would back it in a vote, which is expected to take place in the Commons next week.
Frantic last-minute talks led to expected announcements by the two sides being continually delayed throughout Christmas Eve, with one of the biggest sticking points – fishing rights – continuing to hold up the deal.
As the political drama unfolded in London and Brussels after nine months of often bitter negotiations, Mr Johnson signalled the move amounted to a fresh start for the nation.
In a Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said the UK had delivered on what was promised in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
The Prime Minister said: “We have taken back control of our laws and our destiny. We have taken back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation in a way that is complete and unfettered.
“From January 1 we are outside the customs union and outside the single market.
I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. pic.twitter.com/DofRkb4Ivc
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 24, 2020
“British laws will be made solely by the British Parliament interpreted by British judges sitting in UK courts and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will come to an end.”
In a Christmas message shared on Twitter on Thursday night, he described the deal as “glad tidings of great joy” and suggested people should read through the 500-page document after their lunch on Christmas Day.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen struck a more sombre note, stating: “We have finally found an agreement.
“It was a long and winding road, but we have got a good deal to show for it.
“It is fair, it is a balanced deal, and it is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides.”
There will be a five-and-a-half year transition period for the fishing industry, and co-operation will continue on issues including climate change, energy, security and transport.
The Christmas Eve deal came just a week before the current trading arrangements expire, with the UK leaving the single market and customs union.
Mr Johnson said the deal covers trade worth around £660 billion and means:
– Goods and components can be sold without tariffs and quotas in the EU market.
– It will allow the share of fish in British waters that the UK can catch to rise from around half now to two-thirds by the end of the five-and-a-half year transition.
– Allegations of unfair competition will be judged by an independent third-party arbitration panel with the possibility of a “proportionate” response.
But the Prime Minister acknowledged he had been forced to give ground on his demands on fishing and conceded he had not got all he wanted on the vitally important financial services sector.
Parliament will be recalled from its Christmas break to vote on the deal on December 30, though MPs have been urged not to return in person to the Commons because of the pandemic unless it is “absolutely necessary”.
It is almost certain to be approved but Mr Johnson could face opposition from hardline Brexiteers.
Speaking at his own press conference, Sir Keir said Labour could not abstain from the vote.
He said: “At a moment of such national significance, it is not credible for Labour to be on the sidelines.
“That is why I can say today that when this deal comes before Parliament, Labour will accept it and vote for it.”
The Tory European Research Group has promised to convene a “star chamber” of lawyers to pore over the 500 pages of the deal.
The agreement also has to be approved by the 27 EU members – and their diplomats will receive a Christmas Day briefing from lead negotiator Michel Barnier.
The European Parliament is unlikely to vote on the deal until the new year, meaning its application will have to be provisional until they give it the green light.