BRITAIN is holding its breath today as Boris Johnson is on the verge of sealing a historic Christmas eve Brexit deal – but negotiators are still haggling over fish at the last minute.
The PM is set to address the nation today to reveal the pact, which will allow us to trade freely with the EU without tariffs or quotas and bring to an end four bitter years of Brexit wrangling.
The UK will finally cut ties with the bloc’s red tape, rules and meddlesome EU judges as promised in the historic 2016 referendum, while allowing business and trade to flourish around the globe.
And in a major concession, Brussels has dropped demands for powers to hit British goods with tariffs if we shut EU boats out of our waters in future.
Negotiators have been working overnight to iron out minor details in the 2,000 page legal text after the crucial fishing deadlock was broken.
But both sides this morning were still locked in talks.
It was suggested that some of the final wrangling was over specific species of fish allowed to be caught.
The PM is reported to be speaking with EU chief Ursula Von der Leyen at any moment – where they will put the final touches on a deal and sign it off.
Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Coveney said today: “Brexit will hopefully provide us with some good news this Christmas.”
He told RTE Radio there had been “some sort of last-minute hitch” over the small print but that a fisheries agreement had been sorted in principle.
“They’re still going on fish,” a UK source told PA.
It came as:
- There was an eleventh hour row about protections for the UK car industry – which appeared to have been resolved
- Pizza was delivered to the Berlaymont HQ in Brussels late last night as crunch talks continued
- The pound soared against the dollar last night on hopes of a deal
- Already Brexiteers were grumbling about not having enough time to analyse the deal when it comes back to MPs
- Sir Keir Starmer is preparing to urge his shadow cabinet to back a Brexit trade deal – and could hold a meeting later today to get their backing
Labour boss Sir Keir Starmer will speak to his top team today if a deal is reached.
But it’s expected Labour will back the deal when it comes to a Commons vote next week.
Pictures showed pizza being delivered to the Berlaymont HQ in Brussels late last night as EU and UK teams scrutinised their deal.
Britain’s talks hero David Frost was still locked away in the EU Berlaymont headquarters poring over final legal texts for the first-ever zero-tariff trade deal with the EU into the early hours.
As talks stretched late into the evening, a senior Brussels source said last night: “We’re still in the final phase.”
Another added: “Keep the faith”.
Brussels sources said the main breakthrough was made on Tuesday night and kept secret for 24 hours.
The deal – when sealed – is expected to be worth £668 billion, The Times claimed.
The PM last night summoned his top team of ministers to a Zoom call late yesterday to update them on “a brilliant breakthrough”.
Sources on the call told The Sun that Mr Johnson “lavished praise” on former rival Brexiteer Michael Gove.
The PM said he had been “indispensable” in getting a deal, with planning and No Deal readiness.
But he warned he would need all of them “sell the deal”, which was designed to let “both the UK and the EU to retain their sovereignty”.
“Neighbours become good friends” was the PM’s message, said one insider.
The deal will be a major win for Britain and a personal success for Mr Johnson at the end of a tricky year navigating a global pandemic.
His vow to “get Brexit done” at last December’s general election gifted him a Tory landslide, but discussions hit the buffers repeatedly over fish, sticking to EU rules, and governance of the deal in future.
But already Brexiteers were grumbling over not having enough time to look over the deal before they are asked to rubber stamp it – likely on December 30.
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis told LBC this morning: “I don’t really like the idea that Parliament will have to agree a 2,000-page deal in one day.”
And Nigel Farage warned the UK may “find ourselves far too closely aligned to EU rules in the years to come”. He added that he hoped “this is the beginning of the end of the European Union.”
Mr Farage told talkRADIO: “Hey, is [the deal] better than where we were five years ago? Yes, it is. Is it good enough to allow us to become Singapore, the really dynamic booming economy? No.”
It was claimed last night that Mr Johnson had agreed for Brussels to hand back a quarter of its fish quota – meaning Britain will fish just over 66 per cent of UK waters.
And there will be a five-and-a-half-year transition phase, down from the EU’s ask of a decade.
France crowed on Wednesday that the EU had won “huge concessions” from Britain on access to our fishing waters.
But their bragging angered some other capitals which feared premature spinning could put a last-minute spanner in the works.
2020: The road to a Brexit deal
After a nail-biting year of trying to negotiate a Brexit deal, here are the key points in this final slog to the finish.
JANUARY 8: EU chief Ursula von der Leyen visits No10 and warns the timeline for trade talks is “very, very tight”. The PM vows there will be no extension to transition period.
JANUARY 9: The PM gets his Brexit withdrawal agreement through the Commons.
JANUARY 31: Britain formally leaves the EU at 11pm.
MARCH 2: Michel Barnier and David Frost kick off the trade talks in Brussels.
MARCH 12: Negotiations move online due to the pandemic.
JUNE 12: No10 formally tells the EU we will not sign up to a transition extension.
JUNE 29: Physical talks resume in Brussels.
JUNE 30: Both sides miss a deadline for completing deals on fish and financial services.
SEPTEMBER 10: Brussels then threatens the UK with legal action over deal breaches.
OCTOBER 16: The PM walks away from talks, accusing the EU of making “unacceptable” trade demands.
OCTOBER 21: Talks resume after Mr Barnier agrees both sides need to compromise.
OCTOBER 31: Negotiators miss the first deadline for a deal.
NOVEMBER 7: The PM and Mrs von der Leyen agree to “redouble” their efforts.
NOVEMBER 15: The second deadline comes and goes.
NOVEMBER 19: A third deadline is missed.
DECEMBER 9: The PM and Mrs von der Leyen hold a disastrous dinner at the EU’s HQ.
DECEMBER 20: Negotiators blaze through an EU Parliament deadline for the deal.
DECEMBER 24: Deal done?
British sources dismissed the briefings out of Paris as posturing.
Emmanuel Macron has been demanding ongoing rights in the UK’s six to 12 mile coastal zone, where French boats land many of their catches.
His Europe minister Clement Beaune said France would’ve pulled the plug on talks but for the devastating impact No Deal would’ve had on its fishermen.
However the only row left burning last night was protection for electric vehicles was a last minute hurdle.
Britain is a world leader in green vehicles and is worried about protecting thousands of high tech jobs and car production plants.
The UK wants terms that would allow British manufacturers to use imported Chinese batteries in electric cars shipped to the continent.
However Brussels had insisted that was unacceptable, as they’re planning a ban on the use of all power units from abroad starting in 2027.
The UK is a world leader in vehicle production. We churned out 1.6 million in 2018, four-fifths of which were sent to Europe.
But last night EU diplomats said the Commission has “space to move” on the issue and it’s very unlikely to prove a dealbreaker.
Conditions known as Rules of Origin will govern how much of a product has to be locally sourced to qualify for preferential trade terms.
What does a Brexit deal mean for me?
- Getting a deal means goods can continue to move tariff free between the EU and UK after we break free of Brussels’ rules
- Britain will finally control its own fishing waters and be able to set its own laws
- But Britain will choose not to reduce some of its rules and laws in certain areas – or may risk being slapped with charges
- Brits will have to make sure they have six months left on their passport once we leave
- And they will be able to travel visa free for 90 days – but after that will need to apply for one
- It’s unclear what will happen to the European Health Insurance card – but Brits who need ongoing medical treatment will be able to get it for at least a year
- People must apply for a pet passport in advance
- And anyone driving in Europe needs to get a new license, too
- Unlimited EU migration will end – and a new points based system will come in from January, meaning freedom of movement will end
- The UK will leave the single market and customs union – but have some access for some goods
- But there will be an increase in bureaucracy as a result of leaving the EU’s trading regime.
Car manufacturing is a particularly sensitive sector, because it has long supply chains using thousands of components from all over the world.
Sam Lowe, a commentator at the the Centre for European Reform think tank, accused Brussels of being protectionist with its demands.
He said the EU’s “heavy handed approach risks undermining its claim to be a world leader on climate change and green technologies”.
Last night EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told EU insiders he had “no regrets” about the way Brussels has handled the negotiations.
He added the bloc will “keep calm until the last second” in the hunt for an agreement.
If the deal is announced today it will be provisionally agreed by Member States.
EU27 ministers and diplomats on the Council can decides whether to provisionally apply a deal or not – and it can be adopted by written procedure rather than an in-person vote.
MEPs can then vote on final ratification early next month.
Ambassadors from the EU27 have been put on standby for Thursday and the weekend, when they are expected to approve the pact.
And MPs will be dragged back to the Commons to sign it off – expected to be on December 30.
The pair have set up a direct hotline between Downing St and the EU HQ “part and parcel” of the final stretch of negotiations, done by their top negotiators David Frost and Michel Barnier.