24 December 2020
Exactly four years and six months since the day the result of the EU referendum was announced, the long-awaited deal between the UK and the EU on their post-Brexit trading relationship has been agreed.
Not surprisingly the two press conferences announcing the deal were markedly different as Commission President Ursula von der Leyen explained (in German, French and English) that sovereignty in the 21st century means “pooling our strength” and speaking together in a world full of great powers.
She also reminded British listeners that “parting is such sweet sorrow” before the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, gave the statement that UK business had been waiting to hear for many months: the clock is no longer ticking.
Both Mr Barnier and the Commission President made it clear that they felt a sense of relief that the talks were completed but also sadness that the UK had finally left the Union.
What to Ms von der Leyen is a “good, fair and balanced deal”, however, to Prime Minister Boris Johnson is “everything that the British public was promised during the 2016 referendum and in the general election last year”.
He described the deal as the first free trade agreement (FTA) based on zero tariffs and zero quotas that has ever been achieved with the EU as well as being the biggest bilateral trade deal signed by either side, covering trade worth £668 billion in 2019.
“We are not bound by EU rules, there is no role for the European Court of Justice (CJEU) and all of our key red lines about returning sovereignty have been achieved,” a statement from Number 10 claimed.
The deal will however allow UK exporters to do even more business in the 27 Member States as “we take back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation in a way that is complete and unfettered”.
As the UK becomes an independent coastal state with full control of its waters, Mr Johnson went on, fishing communities will be helped with £100 million to modernise their fleets.
"This deal above all means certainty, for the aviation industry, the hauliers... the police, the border forces, and all those that keep us safe,” he concluded. “It means certainty for our scientists who will be able to work together on great collective projects. But above all it means certainty for business.”
What happens next?
The deal, which it should be remembered does not cover trade in services, is said to be over 2000 pages long (500 according to Mr Johnson) and has to be ratified by both the UK and European Parliaments.
It is expected that MPs will be recalled from the present Christmas recess in order to give approval to the agreement before the transition period ends on 31 December 2020.
The indications from the EU side are that MEPs will not consider the text until January but that arrangements will be put in place for provisional agreement to be granted until they have completed their readings of the text.