25 Dec 2020

Brexit: Boris Johnson hails free trade deal with EU

6:18 am on 25 December 2020

The EU and UK have reached a post-Brexit trade deal, ending months of disagreements over fishing rights and future business rules.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson calls President of European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen via video link from the Cabinet room, in London, United Kingdom on December 24, 2020.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson calls President of European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen via video link. Photo: Pippa Fowles / No10 Downing Street / Anadolu Agency via AFP

At a Downing Street press conference, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "We have taken back control of our laws and our destiny."

The text of the agreement has yet to be released, but Johnson claimed it was a "good deal for the whole of Europe".

The UK is set to exit EU trading rules next Thursday - a year after officially leaving the 27 nation bloc.

It will mean big changes for business, with the UK and EU forming two separate markets, and the end of free movement.

But the trade deal will come as a major relief to many British businesses, already reeling from the impact of coronavirus, who feared disruption at the borders and the imposition of tariffs, or taxes on imports.

As the deal was announced, Johnson - who had repeatedly said the UK would "prosper mightily" without a deal - tweeted a picture of himself smiling with both thumbs lifted in the air.

At his press conference, he said: "We have completed the biggest deal yet worth £668 billion a year.

"A comprehensive Canada-style deal between the UK and the EU. A deal that will protect jobs across this country, that will enable UK goods to be sold without tariffs, without quotas in the EU market.

"A deal which will allow our companies to do even more business with our European friends."

In a statement, Downing Street said: "We have taken back control of our money, borders, laws, trade and our fishing waters."

Echoing Johnson's general election slogan, it added "we have got Brexit done".

In a press conference in Brussels, European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen said: "This 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."

She added that now was "time to turn the page and look to the future" and that the UK "remains a trusted partner".

There will be a five-and-a-half-year transition period for the fishing industry, she indicated.

And co-operation will continue on issues including climate change, energy, security and transport.

Relief to businesses

Johnson said he hoped the UK Parliament would be recalled on 30 December to vote on deal - it will also need to be ratified by the European Parliament.

The opposition Labour Party - which is widely expected to back the deal - said it would be setting out its formal response "in due course".

The full text of the free trade agreement is expected to be published in the coming days.

Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford said a deal was better than no deal but criticised the timing just a week before the UK exits the EU single market and customs union.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "Brexit is happening against Scotland's will - and there is no deal that will ever make up for what Brexit takes away from us.

"It's time to chart our own future as an independent, European nation."

The government's economic watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, had warned that leaving without a deal would have shrunk the national income by 2 percent next year and led to major job losses.

Down to the wire

There were also concerns it would lead to higher prices in the shops for many imported goods.

Negotiations in Brussels went down to the wire over what EU fishing boats are allowed to catch in UK waters. Fishing makes up just 0.12 percent of the UK's economy.

There are still big question marks about what the deal will mean for the rest of British business.

Firms that trade with the 27 member states have carried on as normal for the past year during the so-called transition period that kicked in when Britain left the EU.

They will still face extra paperwork when the country leaves the EU single market and customs union next week.

But the threat of tariffs - import taxes - between the UK and its biggest trading partner will be removed.


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