UK and EU agree post-Brexit trade agreement - but Cambridge MP says it is a ‘rotten deal’ for Cambridge
The UK and the EU have finally struck a post-Brexit trade agreement - but it has been described as a “terrible deal for Cambridge” by the city’s MP.
After months of talks and frantic last-minute negotiations, the long-awaited deal arrived on Christmas Eve - a week before current trading arrangements expire.
Boris Johnson said it will help protect jobs and provide certainty to businesses.
The Prime Minister said the agreement resolves the European question which has “bedevilled” British politics for generations.
In a Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said the UK had met the promises made in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
The Prime Minister said: “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.
“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.”
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said: “We have finally found an agreement.
“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 said the deal meant “EU rules and standards will be respected” with “effective tools to react” if the UK side tries to undercut Brussels to seek a competitive advantage.
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.
Mrs von der Leyen said she felt “quiet satisfaction” and “relief” that a deal had been concluded.
“It is time to leave Brexit behind, our future is made in Europe,” she added.
The Christmas Eve deal comes just a week before the current trading arrangements expire with the UK leaving the single market and customs union.
Mr Johnson said the deal covers trade worth around £660 billion and means:
- 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.
But the Prime Minister acknowledged he had been forced to give ground on his demands on fishing.
“The EU began with I think wanting a transition period of 14 years, we wanted three years, we’ve ended up at five years,” he said.
On financial services, a vitally important sector to the UK, Mr Johnson conceded he had not got all he wanted.
“There is some good language about equivalence for financial services, perhaps not as much as we would have liked, but it is nonetheless going to enable our dynamic City of London to get on and prosper as never before,” he said.
The UK will no longer participate in the Erasmus student exchange scheme, which Mr Johnson said was because it is “extremely expensive” – but a British alternative called the Turing Scheme will provide an alternative.
Parliament will be recalled from its Christmas break to vote on the deal on December 30, though MPs have been urged not to return in person to the Commons because of the pandemic unless it is “absolutely necessary”.
It is almost certain to be approved – with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer confirming his party would vote for it – but Mr Johnson could face opposition from hardline Brexiteers.
Sir Keir said: “At a moment of such national significance, it is not credible for Labour to be on the sidelines. That is why I can say today that when this deal comes before Parliament, Labour will accept it and vote for it.”
The Tory European Research Group has promised to convene a “star chamber” of lawyers to pore over the 500 pages of the deal.
The agreement also has to be approved by the 27 EU members – and their diplomats will receive a Christmas Day briefing from lead negotiator Michel Barnier.
The European Parliament is unlikely to vote on the deal until the new year, meaning its application will have to be provisional until they give it the green light.
Importantly for Cambridge, the UK will continue to participate in the Horizon Europe research programme.
But overall, Daniel Zeichner, the Labour MP for Cambridge, was unimpressed.
He said: “This is no Christmas miracle and however the Prime Minister wraps it up, this is a terrible deal for Cambridge. Yes it’s better than the nightmare of nothing but this is a rotten deal that reduces access to each other’s markets, destroys jobs, creates red tape, makes it harder for researchers, and removes our rights.”
Business leaders expressed relief that the UK team, led by Lord David Frost, had reached agreement with the EU team.
Tony Danker, CBI director-general, said: “We congratulate David Frost, Michel Barnier and their teams for this landmark achievement, and we praise the courage of our political leaders in reaching a deal.
“This will come as a huge relief to British business at a time when resilience is at an all-time low. But coming so late in the day it is vital that both sides take instant steps to keep trade moving and services flowing while firms adjust.
“Firms will immediately study the details, when they can, to understand the implications for their companies, customers and clients but immediate guidance from government is required across all sectors.
“Above all, we need urgent confirmation of grace periods to smooth the cliff edge on everything from data to rules of origin and we need to ensure we keep goods moving across borders.
“The UK has a bright future outside the European Union and with a deal secured we can begin our new chapter on firmer ground.”
Key points of the deal
The deal will come into effect on January 1 2021 after the transition period ends.
Here are the key points we know so far – but the 500 pages of the deal have yet to be published.
The UK gave ground on fisheries, Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted, but said that as a result of the deal the country will be “an independent coastal state with full control of our waters” and would see its share of UK fish rising “substantially”.
The deal is worth £668billion a year and will enable UK goods to be sold without tariffs or quotas in the EU market – allowing UK companies to do even more business with the continent, the Prime Minister said.
Level playing field
Brussels said the agreement included binding enforcement and dispute settlement mechanisms which will “ensure that rights of businesses, consumers and individuals are respected”, though Mr Johnson suggested the EU had made concessions on this area.
The UK said there are “unprecedented measures to allow UK solicitors, barristers and advocates to practise in the EU using their UK title”, as well as a “highly comprehensive deal in digital trade”.
The deal ends the EU State Aid regime and allows the UK to introduce its own “modern subsidy system so that we can better support businesses to grow and thrive”, the UK said.
Mr Johnson said that after January 1, 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”.
The agreement provides for “continued and sustainable air, road, rail and maritime connectivity”, the European Commission said, with provisions to ensure passenger rights and transport safety are not undermined.
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”.
Mr Johnson said the Erasmus student exchange programme – which had seen participants able to study across Europe – would be replaced by a worldwide scheme named after Bletchley Park code breaker Alan Turing.
The agreement will enable UK citizens to access healthcare when travelling in the EU, with reciprocal cover for EU member states which are responsible for the healthcare of an individual, according to a UK Government summary.
The agreement provides for the uprating of the UK state pension paid to pensioners who retire to the EU, the government said.
The UK will be able to continue participating in the Horizon Europe scientific research programme, as well as the Euratom Research and Training programme and the space programme Copernicus.
A formal review of the arrangements can take place after four years. If either side does not believe the system is working fairly, they will be able to end the trade agreement – meaning the two sides would trade on WTO terms.
People and businesses must still prepare for the end of the transition period, Mr Johnson stressed, though said there were “all sorts of things” in the agreement to make sure “things flow as smoothly as we possibly can” at the borders.
Additional reporting: PA