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EU states to back Brexit deal as PM hails era of ‘certainty’

Boris Johnson on Zoom call to Ursula von der Leyen (pic: Downing St)

The UK’s Brexit deal will be approved by the 27 member states of the EU within days following a briefing of ambassadors by Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Sources in Europe say there is little doubt that the 1,246-page text presents no obstacles to the deal being signed off. MEPs are expected to vote formally on the agreement in January.

The deal agreed on Christmas Eve will also be put to a vote in the House of Commons on 30 December. Despite some dissent from the SNP and hardliners in the Tory party it is expected to sail through after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his party would support the government as it was better than no deal.

It will mean the UK will leave the EU’s single market and customs union on 31 December with zero tariffs on goods but with an end to free movement of people, replaced by a points-based immigration system. Britons will no longer have complete freedom to work or start a business in the EU. The European Court of Justice will have no role in UK affairs.

New ‘rules of origin’ regulations will mean UK firms must self-certify the origin of exports to the EU, but both sides have agreed to limit customs red tape, including new ‘trusted trader’ rules to speed things up at the border.

There will extra cooperation at “roll-on roll-off” ports such as Dover and Holyhead to minimise disruption, and specific agreements to make trade in wine, pharmaceuticals, cars and chemicals easier.

Holidaymakers will be able to travel to the continent visa-free for up to 90 days. UK drivers will not need to apply for an international driving licence.

On state aid, the issue which recently scuppered the Scottish and UK governments’ financing of BiFab, Britain is no longer bound by the EU rules which regulate how much help governments can give companies. 

In future, both sides must be transparent about subsidies they give businesses, to ensure firms don’t get an unfair advantage. The EU and the UK must set up an independent authority to oversee state aid. There is no set limit for how much state aid qualifies as a problem, and disputes will be resolved on a case-by-case basis.

There is no automatic mutual recognition of professional qualifications, such as doctors, vets and engineers. However, there is agreement on recognition of lawyers’ qualifications.

Britain will not take part in the Erasmus university exchange programme, despite promises by Mr Johnson to retain Britain’s membership. Agreement could not be reached on funding the programme. However, it will be replaced with a less-expensive ‘Turing’ scheme.

The Department for Education said the Turing Scheme will provide support for around 35,000 students to go on placements and exchanges globally from September. Full details are yet to be revealed, but UK organisations will be invited to bid into the scheme in early 2021.

It is thought it will not not fund students coming to the UK, as Erasmus does now. The Irish government is to pay Northern Ireland students for the cost of continuing to study under Erasmus.

Britain’s key services sector – accounting for 80% of the economy – is not covered by last week’s agreement. There is no decision on ‘equivalence’, which would allow UK financial firms such as banks to sell their services on equal terms into the EU single market.  UK firms will have to comply with varying rules across member states.

Luxembourg for Finance said the trade deal should make Brussels more amenable to granting equivalence beyond the 18 months for derivatives clearing, and six months for settling Irish securities agreed so far.

Even so, Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared: “We have delivered on every one of our manifesto commitments: control of money, borders, laws, fish and all the rest.

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“But even more important, I believe we now have a basis for long-term friendship and partnership with the EU as sovereign equals.”

Mr Johnson said the agreement represented “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.”

Sterling and stock markets are expected to rise when they reopen next week amid a new forecast of economic growth of 6.1% in 2021. Another study from the Centre for Economics and Business Research predicts that UK output would be 23% higher than that of France by 2035.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen described the agreement as “fair” and “balanced”, saying it was now ‘”time to turn the page and look to the future”.

Michel Barnier

Michel Barnier: briefed ambassadors

One European diplomat told The Guardian: “EU ambassadors unanimously endorsed a letter to the European parliament on the intention of EU member states to take a decision on the provisional application of the EU-UK agreement in the coming days.

“The letter lays out the necessity of this exceptional step in order to prevent a significant disruption in EU-UK relations with severe consequences for citizens and businesses at the end of the transition period on the 1st of January.

“The provisional application would also allow for proper and full democratic scrutiny of the draft agreement by the European parliament and the council of member states before its final ratification. This decision on the provisional application will be put to a vote in the council in the following days.”

SNP objects to fish deal

Meanwhile, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, has accused the UK government of breaking promises to Scotland’s fishing industry.

Ms Sturgeon insisted the agreement was “a bad deal for fishing”. She said it appeared that “major promises” made by the UK government on fisheries had been broken.

“The extent of these broken promises will become apparent to all very soon,” she said.

Mr Johnson admitted he made concessions on fishing – securing less of the catch than had been demanded, prompting accusations of betrayal from some fishing leaders.

Until the end of this year, the UK will be bound by the EU’s rules including the Common Fisheries Policy.

However, The agreement will mean Britain claws back 25% of the bloc’s existing catch, worth £146 million a year, over the next five and a half years and the PM said it will regain complete control of the fishing stocks once that transition period ends. 

The UK government has insisted the deal will allow Scotland’s fishermen to flourish outside the EU.

Asked where the biggest compromises had been made, Mr Johnson said the UK had wanted “complete control over our fisheries from the get-go.”

Describing the final agreement as “reasonable”, he said: “The EU began with wanting a transition period of 14 years, we wanted three years. We have ended up at five.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said the deal was “great news for Scotland’s businesses”.

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He said it brought “huge opportunities” and “exceptional access” to the EU market and new markets around the world.

“We have an agreement on fisheries which will ensure that our fishermen, and our coastal communities, will flourish outside of the EU’s unfair Common Fisheries Policy,” he said.

“The UK will once more be a sovereign coastal state.”

He added that the deal would protect famous Scottish products such as whisky, Arbroath smokies and Orkney cheddar.

Comment: Something fishy about the SNP’s stance on Europe

Deal done: how business reacted



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