Britain and the EU finally agreed the long-awaited – and long haggled-over – Brexit deal today.
But it is more the end of the beginning, with politicians, trade experts and industry leaders ready to pour over the pages of the agreement in the coming days.
It’s the document the (political) world has been waiting for – and it’s feared to be no fewer than 2,000 pages long – although Boris Johnson tonight suggested it would be no more than 500 pages of ‘easily intelligible’ material.
Some feared it would never materialise. But the world could soon finally see the agreement – which will shape every aspect of Britain’s future relationship with the EU.
It was announced this afternoon after a last-minute delay caused, almost inevitably, by fish, the main stumbling block.
Analysis of the deal-in waiting by the UK Government suggests it ‘won’ in talks on 43 per cent of the ‘key issues’ in the talks. It labels a further 40 per cent at compromises for both sides, with just 17 per cent down as ‘EU wins’.
Almost a year in the making, the deal has involved hundreds of officials working round the clock to agree its terms. So, what are the key areas – and what will we be signing up to?
Boris Johnson tonight said that the deal agreed would see the UK land ‘prodigious quantities of fish’.
In more evidence that Mr Johnson is bracing to sell a deal to voters, a leaked internal government document claims that the UK ‘won’ on 43 per cent of the major issues – compared to 17 per cent where the EU came out on top
The UK government assessment said it had ‘insulated financial services from cross-retaliation’ in disputes about other areas of the agreement
Some experts cast doubt on the assessments in the UK document, pointing out that many of the ‘wins’ for the EU were in the crucial services sector of the economy. There is no deep provision for financial services from January 1
HOLIDAYS AND HEALTHCARE
Striking a deal means Britons will find it easier to travel to the continent than they would have if talks had failed.
It is also hoped that tourists will have access to hospital treatment when travelling abroad.
The UK has argued that the European Health Insurance Card, or EHIC, should also continue to be valid after the Brexit transition period ends on December 31 – sparing tourists the ordeal of arranging their own insurance.
In the end, Britain and the EU appear to have agreed a zero-tariff and zero-quota regime – a significant victory for Mr Johnson. Trade with the EU accounts for 43 per cent of the UK’s exports and 51 per cent of its imports.
Mr Johnson said: ‘This deal above all means certainty – certainty for the aviation industry, and the hauliers, certainty for the police and border forces, security services and all those we rely on across Europe to keep us all safe.’
He added: ‘Above all, it means certainty for business – from financial services to our world-leading manufacturers, our car industry, a certainty for all those who are working in high-skilled jobs in firms and factories across the whole country.
‘There will be no palisade of tariffs on January 1, there will be no non-tariff barriers to trade.
‘Instead, there will be a giant free trade zone of which we will at once be a member and at the same time be able to do our own free trade deals as one UK.’
Another bone of contention has been Brussels’ fear that Britain could take advantage of leaving the bloc by lowering standards to make its firms more competitive. Pictured: European Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier
The prospect of No Deal – and trading with Brussels on World Trade Organization terms, as Australia does – prompted fears of massive extra costs for businesses, which would have been passed on to the public.
As talks reached the sharp end, ministers accepted that No Deal would lead to many staple food items costing more at the supermarket.
Farmers warned however that they would still face non-tariff costs on exports.
Farmers’ Union of Wales president Glyn Roberts welcomed the EU’s formal listing of the UK as a ‘third country’ – a move which is essential in terms of allowing Welsh food exports to the EU.
‘However, our access to the EU market, which is the destination for three-quarters of Welsh food and drink exports, will still face significant barriers after December 31, with non-tariff barrier costs expected to rise by 4 per cent to 8 per cent,’ he said.
Mr Roberts said the full text of an agreement would have to be scrutinised in order to assess the full impacts and benefits, and a number of concerns existed including in terms of seed potato exports.
‘Nevertheless, the Welsh farming industry, like others the length and breadth of Great Britain, will be celebrating Christmas having breathed a huge sigh of relief that a deal seems close to being agreed,’ he added.
Mr Johnson accepted that the UK had given ground on access to fishing waters, but said that as a result of the deal the country will be able to ‘catch and eat quite prodigious quantities of extra fish’.
Asked in which areas the UK and EU had conceded in the deal, the Prime Minister said: ‘It would be fair to say that we wanted to make sure for instance that we got… complete control of our fisheries from the get go and that’s just to say we had annual negotiations on fisheries within the shortest possible delay.
‘The EU began with I think wanting a transition period of 14 years, we wanted three years, we’ve ended up at five years. I think that was a reasonable transition period and I can assure great fish fanatics in this country that we will as a result of this deal be able to catch and eat quite prodigious quantities of extra fish.’
Fishing rights have been the most intractable part of the negotiations.
The PM made clear that Britain would be an independent coastal state in charge of access to its own waters – with UK fishermen able to catch a far greater proportion of the available fish than their EU competitors.
Brussels had demanded unfettered access to Britain’s waters for a decade. The UK had offered a three-year transition period.
The result was a compromise. The UK has ended up taking back 25 per cent of the EU’s fishing quota – with that figure increasing over the next five-and-a-half years.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier (third from left) and his British counterpart Lord Frost were still combing through the Brexit trade deal
The government assessment listed a series of UK wins – although some experts suggested they were rose-tinted
Downing Street says this will mean we are catching close to two-thirds of the fish in our waters by 2026 – but there is no doubt that this compromise appears nearer the EU’s starting position than ours, at least in the short term.
The Government document, seen by the Guido Fawkes website, insists that the situation is a mutual compromise – the UK gave ground on the size of the quotas, the EU gave ground on how long they have access for.
However, perhaps in a bid to save face, French sources suggested the situation was a win for the EU. A French government source said UK negotiators had made ‘huge concessions’ on fisheries.
Mr Johnson added: ‘For the first time since 1973 we will be an independent coastal state with full control of our waters with the UK’s share of fish in our waters rising substantially from roughly half today to closer to two thirds in five-and-a-half years time after which there is no theoretical limits beyond those placed by science or conservation on the quantity of our own fish that we can fish in our waters.’
He continued: ‘Those fishing communities will be helped with a big £100 million pound programme to modernise their fleets, and the fish processing industry.’
A Downing Street spokesman added: ‘This deal recognises UK sovereignty over our fishing waters and puts us in a position to rebuild our fishing fleet and increase quotas in the next few years, finally overturning the inequity that British fishermen have faced for over four decades. We will also invest in our fishing communities and restore the fishing fleet.’
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
Britain and the EU will seek international help if they clash over trade in the future to avoid using the European Court of Justice
Boris Johnson said that ‘independent third party arbitration’ would be used if either side felt it was being ‘unfairly undercut’ by the other.
The Prime Minister was following through on a commitment of the whole Brexit campaign to remove Britain from the EU’s legal sphere of influence.
One of the bones of contention in the trade talks was Brussels’ fear that Britain could take advantage of leaving the bloc by lowering standards to make its firms more competitive.
The EU was also worried that the UK could give more financial help to its own firms. As a result, it demanded a ‘level playing field’ to avoid a race to the bottom on issues such as workers’ rights and environmental regulation.
It also wanted Britain to continue to accept a slew of EU rules.
The UK said this would pose an ‘existential threat’ to its sovereignty. Britain said it would settle for No Deal rather than face being tied to EU rules after Brexit.
Under the deal announced today there will be zero-tariff, zero-quota access to the EU single market – and Mr Johnson has maintained the ability to diverge from Brussels standards, with no role for the European Court of Justice.
Disputes will be settled by an independent arbitration panel, similar to the structures already in the Withdrawal Agreement and those commonly used in international trade situations.
In a Downing Street press conference today, Mr Johnson said: ‘In the context of this giant free trade zone that we’re jointly creating the stimulus of regulatory competition will I think benefit us both.
‘And if one side believes it is somehow being unfairly undercut by the other, then subject to independent third party arbitration and provided the measures are proportionate, we can either of us decide – as sovereign equals – to protect our consumers.
Last night it appeared that Britain had given ground on this major sticking point to get a deal done. Pictured: Boris Johnson with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on the steps of No10 Downing Street earlier this year
‘But this treaty explicitly envisages that such action should only happen infrequently and the concepts of uniformity and harmonisation are banished in favour of mutual respect and mutual recognition and free trade.’
A Downing Street spokesman added: ‘The deal is based on international law, not EU law. There is no role for the European Court of Justice and no requirements for the UK to continue following EU law or be forced to keep EU law as it currently stands…
‘This deal includes a commitment to maintaining high labour, environment and climate standards without giving the EU any say over our rules and includes unique clauses that ensure that [our commitments never restrict our law makers.
‘If the UK exercises its sovereign right to have different rules to the EU, any issues arising will be dealt with fairly by an independent arbitration process with no role for EU judges.’
They added: ‘A formal review of the arrangements can take place after four years. If the UK or EU does not believe the system is working fairly, either side will have the ability to bring the agreement on trade to an end. The UK and EU would then trade on Australian-style terms.’
The UK will leave the EU’s single market and customs union on December 31, so the rules and regulations on trading everything from car parts to camembert cheese will change.
An EU spokesman said: ‘Both parties have committed to ensuring a robust level playing field by maintaining high levels of protection in areas such as environmental protection, the fight against climate change and carbon pricing, social and labour rights, tax transparency and State aid, with effective, domestic enforcement, a binding dispute settlement mechanism and the possibility for both parties to take remedial measures.’
A related– and thorny – issue is that of the European Court of Justice. Boris Johnson said it will have no say in the resolution of any rows.
This had been a key demand from Westminster, to avoid the erosion of British sovereignty.
A No 10 Spokesman said: ‘There is no role for the European Court of Justice and all of our key red lines about returning sovereignty have been achieved. It means that we will have full political and economic independence.
‘The UK will have the freedom to set its own rules and will not be under any obligation to move in lock-step with changes which the EU makes.’
Brussels conceded that it could not have the unilateral right to impose penalties on Britain – although it did push hard for a strong and independent arbitration system.
The EU had hoped to punish Britain for ‘breaking rules’ in one area by hitting back in another – allowing them to impose tariffs or taxes in an unrelated sector to inflict the most damage possible.
Mr Johnson told this afternoon’s press conference the deal agreed with Brussels will enable the UK to ‘take back control’ as promised in the 2016 referendum.
‘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,’ he said.
‘From January 1 we are outside the customs union and outside the single market.
‘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.’
POLICING AND SECURITY
The Prime Minister said he was “absolutely confident” the deal would protect police co-operation, the ability to catch criminals and to share intelligence across the European continent “in the way that we have done for many years”.
Britain had wanted to maintain the same access to shared databases that it has now – only for the EU to claim this was not an option for non-members.
Ultimately, the UK appears to have secured greater access than it would have received in a No Deal Brexit.
The UK Government document says the agreement ‘provides for fast and effective exchange of criminal records data between UK and EUMS through shared technical infrastructure (European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS)).’
There will also be ‘fast and effective exchange of national DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data’.
The UK also appears to have been given greater access to Europol than other non-EU countries because of its past contribution to the crime agency. There is also a fast-track agreement on extradition.