Britain and the European Union (EU) have agreed an historic post-Brexit trade deal, with just days left until the end of the transition period.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at the press conference to announce the deal that “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,” she added.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said “the clock is no longer ticking.”
“Today is a day of relief, but tinged by some sadness as we compare what came before with what lies ahead,” he added.
A Downing Street spokesperson said the deal would preserve tariff-free, quota-free trade, which retail chiefs said should give UK households “a collective sigh of relief.”
UK prime minister Boris Johnson tweeted on Thursday afternoon: “The deal is done.”
The spokesperson said ahead the imminent press conference by the prime minister: “We have taken back control of our money, borders, laws, trade and our fishing waters.
“The deal is the biggest bilateral trade deal signed by either side, covering trade worth £668bn ($905bn) in 2019. The deal also guarantees that we are no longer in the lunar pull of the EU, we are not bound by EU rules, there is no role for the European Court of Justice and all of our key red lines about returning sovereignty have been achieved.”
Meanwhile European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in a press conference the deal was “fair” and “balanced” including on competition rules, but said both sides would continue to collaborate on areas of mutual interest.
She added: “We still achieve more together than we do apart.”
However, the more granular details of the deal were not fully announced at the conference.
The pound had been trading higher all day amid widespread reports a deal was imminent, despite last-minute haggling over fishing quotas that delayed an announcement expected earlier on Thursday.
The deal concludes a year of talks between the UK’s negotiating team, led by Lord David Frost, and their EU counterparts, led by Michel Barnier.
Talks began in March and both sides had hoped to reach an initial agreement by early summer. However, talks were delayed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which complicated face-to-face negotiations and sapped the bandwidth of decision makers in government.
Negotiations have been held up for months on three issues: fisheries, ‘level playing field’ agreements to prevent unfair subsidies, and the enforcement mechanism of any deal.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen held private phone calls in recent days in a bid to try and surmount the differences between the two sides.
Von der Leyen said “effective tools” had been agreed in the deal in case either side “distorted” fair competition. She also said the EU had secured 5.5 years of “stability” for European fishing rights in UK waters, and a “strong incentive” for it to remain so.
The fishing transition period marks a compromise for both sides, as the EU had pushed for a longer transition period and the UK had pushed for a shorter one. But the scale of each side’s compromises are likely to become clear only when final legal texts are published.
The agreement must still be approved by EU member states and UK parliament before it can take effect, with provisional EU approval expected before EU’s parliament votes in the New Year. France had previously threatened to veto any deal it felt made too many concessions, particularly around fishing rights.
Time is tight, leading to questions over the implementation of the deal. The UK’s Brexit transition period officially ends on 31 December 2020.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “This protects consumers on both sides of the Channel from billions in import tariffs on everyday goods. Given that four-fifths of UK food imports come from the EU, today’s announcement should afford households around the UK a collective sigh of relief.”