Johnson: Trade deal brings ‘glad tidings of great joy’

Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has used a festive message to the nation to urge people to read the new Brexit trade deal after Christmas lunch on Friday.

The prime minister posted a video on Twitter in which he brandished the document, which has not been released in full yet, and at one point punched the air with enthusiasm.

ITV News Business Editor Joel Hills said many will welcome the fact that a no-deal exit has been avoided, but anxieties remain, particularly at the border.

The deal was agreed on Christmas Eve following months of negotiations with the European Union and comes just a week before the current trading arrangements expire with the UK leaving the single market and customs union without the prospect of tariffs and quotas.

The timing of the deal has forced politicians and officials in the UK and Brussels to tear up Christmas plans.Ambassadors from the 27 European Union members are being briefed on the deal's contents on Christmas Day. The diplomats were being updated by Michel Barnier, who led Brussels’ negotiating team in the talks with the UK.

Mr Johnson said: “Tonight, on Christmas Eve, I have a small present for anyone who may be looking for something to read in that sleepy post-Christmas lunch moment, and here it is, tidings, glad tidings of great joy because this is a deal.

“A deal to give certainty to business, travellers, and all investors in our country from January 1. A deal with our friends and partners in the EU.

“You remember the oven ready deal by which we came out on January 31, that oven ready deal was just the start – this is the feast, full of fish, by the way.

“And I believe it will be the basis of a happy and successful and stable partnership with our friends in the EU for years to come.

“So, that’s it, that’s the good news from Brussels, now for the sprouts, and a happy Christmas to you all.”

Mr Johnson had told a Number 10 press conference on Thursday 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 every jot and tittle of our regulation in a way that is complete and unfettered," he said, while also warning there will be "change ahead."

Mr Johnson dismissed a suggestion that he was "mis-selling" the deal in relation to the level-playing field and non-tariff barriers.

The prime minister also said he disagreed with the question from ITV Political Editor Robert Peston, saying there was a clause in the deal that was "nothing like as damaging as it was".

Mr Johnson said: "(Which) says that if either country feel that the other one is in some way undercutting or dumping in some way then, subject to arbitration and provided the measure is proportionate – I mean independent arbitration, not arbitration by the European Court of Justice… – they can, if they really choose to, put on tariffs to protect their consumers and their businesses."

He added that the deal with the European Union will "protect jobs across this country" and has "taken back control of our laws and our destiny".

Mr Johnson said he hoped there would be a parliamentary vote on the deal on December 30.

ITV News' Political Editor Robert Peston explains the importance of the UK getting a deal before the end of the year

So what is and isn't in the deal?

Mr Johnson said the deal covers trade worth around £660 billion and that it is a "good deal for the whole of Europe", including:

  • Goods and components can be sold without tariffs and quotas in the EU market.

  • 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.

  • On financial services, a vitally important sector to the UK, Mr Johnson conceded he had not got all he wanted.

  • The Erasmus student exchange programme will be replaced in the UK by a worldwide scheme named after code breaker Alan Turing.

Mr Johnson said for the first time since 1973 the UK "will be an independent coastal state with full control of our waters", with the UK’s share of fish in its waters rising "substantially from roughly half today to closer to two-thirds in five-and-a-half years’ time".

What does the Brexit deal actually look like?

How has the European Union responded?

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said: "We have finally found an agreement," before adding: "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."

She told a press conference an agreement on protecting competition in the single market has been struck and that Brussels has the "tools to react" should EU firms be threatened by UK action.

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.

But she also had a veiled dig at the UK and the claims of sovereignty: “Of course, this whole debate has always been about sovereignty.

“But we should cut through the soundbites and ask ourselves what sovereignty actually means in the 21st century.

“It about pooling our strength and speaking together in a world full of great powers.

“In a time of crisis, it is about pulling each other up instead of trying to get back to your feet alone.”

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said: "The clock is no longer ticking. After four years of collective effort and EU unity to preserve peace and stability on the island of Ireland, to protect the citizens and the single market, to build a new partnership with the UK."

Mr Barnier added: "Today is a day of relief but tinged too by sadness. As we compare what came before with what lies ahead."

"As of first of January, real changes for many citizens, and many businesses, and that is the result of Brexit."

"But we have also built a new partnership for the future around four pillars," he said.

What has the reaction from the nation leaders been? Leader of the opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, has said Labour will "accept it and vote for it" when the Government’s deal with the EU reaches Parliament.

Responding to the prime minister’s announcement of a deal being reached with the EU, Sir Keir said: "The deal is a thin is not the deal that the government promised - far from it."

"A better deal could have been negotiated - but I accept that option has now gone," he added.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "It beggars belief that in the midst of a pandemic and economic recession Scotland has been forced out of the EU single market and customs union with all the damage to jobs that will bring.

"A deal is better than no deal. But, just because, at the eleventh hour, the UK Government has decided to abandon the idea of a no-deal outcome, it should not distract from the fact that they have chosen a hard Brexit, stripping away so many of the benefits of EU membership.

"While we do not yet have full details on the nature of the deal, it appears major promises made by the UK Government on fisheries have been broken and the extent of these broken promises will become apparent to all very soon.

"People in Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU but their views have been ignored."

While First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford said "this is not the deal we were is better that we have a deal that we can build on for the future."

But he added there will still be problems ahead such as delays at ports and trade barriers which are not covered.

"Things we have taken for granted up until now, the ability to travel freely, the ability for our young people to be able to visit and study at universities elsewhere, none of that is covered by this deal," Mr Drakeford said.

First Minister Arlene Foster said the Stormont Executive will examine details of the trade, as well as others issues such as security, "where agreement will be particularly important from the Northern Ireland viewpoint”.

"Given the Government’s Northern Ireland Protocol, a sensible trade deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union was always the most favourable outcome for Northern Ireland," she said.