A trade deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union has been reached, it has been confirmed.
The agreement, secured and announced on Christmas Eve, has been reached following months of negotiations. It comes four and a half years after the UK voted for Brexit.
Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, and Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, were in close contact in order to help get the deal over the line.
“The deal is fantastic news for families and businesses in every part of the UK,” a Downing Street source said of the news. “We have signed the first free trade agreement based on zero tariffs and zero quotas that has ever been achieved with the EU.”
What did Boris Johnson say?
Confirming that the deal has been done at a Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said it will make the UK “newly, truly independent” from January 1 onwards.
The Prime Minister said the UK had prepared for Brexit since 2016, including through the planning of a “Australian-style” new points-based immigration system.
“I am very pleased to tell you this afternoon we have concluded the biggest trade deal yet,” he said, going on to describe the agreement as a “comprehensive, Canada-style free trade deal”.
Mr Johnson said that country had taken back control “of our destiny”, and promised that the deal would enable tariff-free trade with EU markets.
While he accepted that the UK had made some concessions on access to fishing waters – a contentious issue during the referendum and a sticking point of late-stage negotiations – he said that, as a result of the deal, the country will be able to “catch and eat quite prodigious quantities of extra fish”.
Downing Street sources said the deal covers trade that was worth a total of £668 billion in 2019.
What will Britain’s new relationship with the EU look like?
In a direct appeal to EU nations, Mr Johnson said that the UK will be “your friend, your ally, your supporter” and “your number one market”:
He said: “I think this deal means a new stability and a new certainty in what has sometimes been a fractious and difficult relationship.
“We will be your friend, your ally, your supporter, and indeed, never let it be forgotten, your number one market. Because although we have left the EU, this country will remain, culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically, geologically attached to Europe.”
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said in a press conference of her own: “Now is the time to turn the page and look to the future.”
She said the UK “remains a trusted partner”, and cited the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, and the upcoming UK presidency of the G7, as proof that the bloc will “stand shoulder to shoulder” with the UK to “deliver on our common global goals”.
How did the EU react?
“The negotiations were very difficult. A lot was at stake for so many people, so this was an agreement that we absolutely had to fight for,” Mrs von der Leyen said.
“I believe, also, that this agreement is in the United Kingdom’s interest. It will set solid foundations for a new start with a long-term friend. And it means that we can finally put Brexit behind us, and Europe is continuing to move forward.
“It is time to leave Brexit behind. Our future is made in Europe.”
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said that there will be “real changes” as soon as the Brexit transition period comes to an end.
He added that he “regrets” the choice of the British Government not to participate in the Erasmus exchange programme, but said the clock was “no longer ticking” – his phrase of choice during negotiations – on a deal.
What happens now?
The deal will be put before Parliament on December 30, the day before the UK leaves the EU. This will mean MPs and peers are recalled in order to vote the deal through.
While it is too late for an emergency session of the European Parliament, the EU will invoke a process called “provisional application”. This way, the agreement will come into effect without the approval of MEPs, who will approve it retrospectively.
“We have resolved a question that has bedevilled our politics for decades,” Mr Johnson said. “It is up to the UK to realise the immensity of this moment.”