Peston: What is Boris Johnson’s deal that's better than no-deal?

We've had enough history in 2020 to last a lifetime. There was more of it this afternoon: a free trade deal with the EU to replace our 46 years of membership.

Zero tariffs, zero quotas on goods made by UK businesses and sold to the world’s biggest market. 

And perhaps as important, a partnership approach to policing and security 

But as the prime minister was forced to concede to me, plenty of red tape and paper work for businesses from 1 January, because we’ve left the EU’s customs union and single market. 

This is the first free trade deal in history which increases the costs for businesses on both sides of the Channel. But that is what we voted for, when as a nation we backed Brexit.

Nor is this the deal Boris Johnson originally wanted – because EU fisherman will for five and a half years be able to catch more fish in UK waters than he regarded as fair.

And the EU never abandoned its insistence on a "level playing field", despite Boris Johnson’s repeated assertions he was having none of it.

This means the UK will have to follow EU rules on the environment, workers rights, subsidies for business and taxes or risk the imposition of tariffs – which is very different from the Canada-style deal he insisted was always the UK’s right.

Boris Johnson says the obligation is symmetrical, that the EU too will have to follow our rules as far as they relate to the competitiveness of business – which is true. He made a point, for example, of telling me he was thinking about increasing standards for animal welfare, a cause dear to the heart of his fiancée, Carrie Symonds. 

But in practice the EU will always have more power to influence our rules than we will have to influence theirs, because – as the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen cheerfully pointed out – their negotiating position has been and always will be much stronger than ours, because we need access to their huge market much more than they need access to our smaller one.  

But let's not carp. After days of Covid-induced chaos at the border, the compounded chaos of a no-deal Brexit was as alluring as a piece of coal and a stick for Christmas.

Boris Johnson has avoided that no-deal, just in the nick of time.