Boris Johnson hails ‘historic new chapter’ as MPs begin Brexit trade deal debate
Brexit: Von der Leyen and Michel sign UK trade deal in Brussels
Mr Johnson made his comments in the House of Commons as he opened a debate on the trade deal ahead of a vote on the Brexit agreement this afternoon. Parliament has been recalled today for MPs and peers to vote on the historic pact before the end of the EU transition period tomorrow.
Praising UK chief negotiator Lord David Frost for agreeing the deal in under a year, he told the Commons: “Our negotiators accomplished their feat with astonishing speed.
“It took nearly eight years for the Uruguay Round of world trade talks to produce a deal, and five years for the EU to reach a trade agreement with Canada, and six for Japan.
“We have done this in less than a year, in the teeth of a pandemic, and we have pressed ahead with this task, resisting all calls for delay, precisely because creating certainty about our future provides the best chance of beating Covid and bouncing back even more strongly next year.”
After months of stalemate in talks, a trade deal was finally struck at the 11th hour on Christmas Eve, just one week before the deadline.
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The issues of fishing, state aid, and fair competition plagued the negotiations, with a breakthrough only available after Mr Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen became more personally involved in the talks.
Addressing MPs in the Commons today, the Prime Minister declared the trade deal a victory for Britain.
He said: “The central purpose of this Bill is to accomplish something which the British people always knew in their hearts could be done, but which we were told was impossible – namely that we could trade and cooperate with our European neighbours on the closest terms of friendship and goodwill, whilst retaining sovereign control of our laws and our national destiny.
“And that unifying thread runs through every clause: this Bill embodies our vision – shared with our European neighbours – of a new relationship between Britain and the EU as sovereign equals, joined by friendship, commerce, history, interests and values, while respecting one another’s freedom of action and recognising that we have nothing to fear if we sometimes choose to do things differently and much to gain from the healthy stimulus of competition.
“This Bill demonstrates how Britain can be at once European and sovereign.”
The Brexit trade deal is expected to pass through Parliament with little drama, after Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer said his party would back the deal.
The influential eurosceptic European Research Group have also endorsed the deal and vowed to vote with the Government later today.
The backbench Conservative group caused havoc for Theresa May when she was trying to pass her Brexit Withdrawal Agreement through the Commons, with members rejecting the deal each time it was put to a vote.
A ‘Star Chamber’ of legal experts mobilised by the ERG carefully examined the deal agreed between the UK and EU to advise its members how to vote.
Announcing its findings yesterday, the group said: “Our overall conclusion is that the Agreement preserves the UK’s sovereignty as a matter of law and fully respects the norms of international sovereign-to-sovereign treaties.”
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Making his case for a “Global Britain” outside of the EU’s grasp come the new year, Mr Johnson told MPs his trade deal would mark a new era for the UK.
He said: “We will now open a new chapter in our national story, striking free trade deals around the world, adding to the agreements with 63 countries we have already achieved, and reasserting Global Britain as a liberal, outward-looking force for good.
“Those of us who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU never sought a rupture with our closest neighbours.
“We would never wish to rupture ourselves from fellow democracies beneath whose soil lie British war graves in tranquil cemeteries, often tended by local schoolchildren, testament to our shared struggle for freedom and everything we cherish in common.
“What we sought was not a rupture but a resolution, a resolution of the old and vexed question of Britain’s political relations with Europe, which bedevilled our post-War history.
“First we stood aloof, then we became a half-hearted, sometimes obstructive member of the EU.
“Now, with this Bill, we shall be a friendly neighbour – the best friend and ally the EU could have – working hand-in-glove whenever our values and interests coincide while fulfilling the sovereign wish of the British people to live under their own laws, made by their own elected Parliament.
“That is the historic resolution delivered by this Bill.”
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