Brexit latest news: EU ambassadors agree to provisionally apply free trade deal

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Dominic Penna
·33 min read
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The Brexit trade agreement will provisionally enter into force on January 1, diplomats have said, with full ratification of the deal by the European Parliament taking place later in the New Year. 

Ambassadors wrote to the European Parliament to justify the provisional application of the deal to avoid a damaging no deal after the deadline for in-person ratification was missed last Sunday.

They said that this solution will also allow for MEPs to give the agreement full democratic scrutiny. 

EU ambassadors met in Brussels today to review the historic trade agreement, which was struck on Christmas Eve. The is expected to happen at a specially convened virtual summit in the coming days. 

Brexiteers unwrapped their dream Christmas present after Britain finally secured the deal, which covers £660 billion of trade per year, yesterday afternoon.

Boris Johnson said the deal finally “takes back control” from the EU more than four years after Britain voted for Brexit.

He added that it resolves the European question which has “bedevilled” British politics for generations.

Follow the latest updates below. 

05:33 PM

That's a wrap for today

As many had suspected, Brexit negotiations went all the way up until the eleventh hour. And now that a deal is done, a relentless few days lie ahead before the UK leaves the EU at 11pm on December 31.

After today's meeting with Michel Barnier, ambassadors will hold another meeting before the new year, and potentially as soon as December 28. In the UK, meanwhile, the deal comes before Parliament on December 30.

The deal seems certain to pass, although it remains to be seen what backbench Tory eurosceptics will think. And while Labour will support the deal over a no-deal outcome Keir Starmer faces a rebellion from his own MPs.

 Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on the agreement of a post-Brexit trade deal - Paul Grover
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on the agreement of a post-Brexit trade deal - Paul Grover

We'll bring you all the highlights of these next few days as they happen, plus unrivalled analysis of what it all means. Until then - have a very merry Christmas.

05:26 PM

'Brexit deal was perfectly choreographed - now, it must pass three tests'

Sunday Telegraph editor Allister Heath notes that, in the end, the Brexit deal was perfectly choreographed.

It went "to the wire like every EU deal ever does, after months of the usual spinning, walk-outs, posturing and meaningless threats", he writes.

"The cynics who had long predicted an agreement at the eleventh hour – or in this case, in time for Christmas – have been proved right."

The financial markets are jubilant: for those who desperately wanted a deal, any deal, this one will do just fine, regardless of the horrors or marvels that it may or may not contain.

And Boris Johnson has secured this agreement in the face of desperate attempts by some in the EU to punish Britain for the "crime" of seeking to leave.

Allister sets out three tests that the Brexit test meet in order to avoid betraying the spirit of 2016, and reassure Brexiteers that the UK "is once again about to become a truly self-governing country".

05:13 PM

Queen's Speech 'was a shining beacon of hope'

Even though the Queen never mentioned the pandemic (or Brexit) by name, this was the coronavirus Christmas message, writes Harry Mount.

By not mentioning the actual virus itself, she turned the broadcast into a positive message of hope, and fending off fear and panic.

Instead, she praised the institutions and people that behaved admirably during the crisis – with a special mention for the scientists who have found a vaccine for the virus in lightning-quick time.

At a time of deep national crisis, when so many people have been taken ill or have died because of the virus, it is right that Brexit took second place to the pandemic – in that it wasn’t mentioned once, either directly or indirectly.

Despite her own troubles, the Queen has remained, for many, a rock we have clung to. She hasn't let us down. She has shown up whenever circumstances have allowed. She has sent out messages of 'We will meet again' hope, as she did in this Christmas message.

04:53 PM

How will the Brexit trade deal affect some of our biggest industries?

As the news emerged shortly before 3pm on Christmas Eve that a Brexit deal had finally been reached, a “sense of relief” was the overarching sentiment among business leaders.

The agreement marks a new chapter in Britain's relationship with the European Union. However, for many sectors of the economy there remain questions over how the UK will work with its biggest trading partner for generations to come.

As the news emerged shortly before 3pm on Christmas Eve that a Brexit deal had finally been reached, a “sense of relief” was the overarching sentiment among business leaders.

The agreement marks a new chapter in Britain's relationship with the European Union. However, for many sectors of the economy there remain questions over how the UK will work with its biggest trading partner for generations to come.

Oliver Gill and Alan Tovey have all the insight from across industries.

04:34 PM

Keir Starmer: Labour will 'accept and vote for' Brexit deal

The Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer gave a televised address yesterday to confirm that Labour will "accept and vote for" Boris Johnson's Brexit deal.

Starmer said he knows how "tired" the British public are of Brexit negotiations - adding that the Labour Party's priorities are protecting the NHS and rebuilding the economy.

Watch below:

04:27 PM

Some Christmas spirit in Brussels today

Michel Barnier - News Scans/Sebastian Fischer
Michel Barnier - News Scans/Sebastian Fischer

04:14 PM

How the Brexit deal will affect house prices and mortgage rates

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has finally agreed a Brexit deal with the European Union, bringing hope that the economic turbulence of leaving the bloc could be dramatically reduced, writes Melissa Lawford.

The property market is currently booming, but experts have warned that the momentum cannot last. 

The economic certainty of a Brexit deal could indirectly boost the sector just as the Government support measures that are supporting the market come to an end.

But in the face of rapidly rising unemployment thanks to coronavirus, the Brexit deal may do little more than avoid chaos for the housing market.

What will happen to house prices, and what about holiday homes? Find out here.

04:08 PM

Brexit deal is done: What does this mean for Boris Johnson?

By striking a trade deal with the EU, Prime Minister Boris Johnson completes the four year-long task of severing Britain from the European Union.

When he was elected, Mr Johnson promised to be the PM that would finally "get Brexit done". Although he can claim to have done so, his premiership is by no means safe in some people's eyes.

His Government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic has raised questions about his leadership, according to The Telegraph's Camilla Tominey.

But furthermore, with Brexit out of the way, Mr Johnson will be tested on whether the can live up to his promise of levelling up the economy.

04:02 PM

'The UK has won its sovereignty from a grieving EU'

In the end it didn’t happen at five minutes to midnight, writes Janet Daley. It was two minutes to midnight. Everybody wanted a form of words he could present to the home audience as a win – or, in the case of the EU, if not a victory, at least a palatable outcome.

We will find out eventually how finely the UK and the EU had to slice the grape for their own audiences, but they can probably count on the fact that Covid and its attendant catastrophic consequences have blunted the more purist forms of critique.

To have walked over the cliff of no deal now would have seemed like absolute insanity. Most of the populations of the key European states are so punch drunk from the pandemic that they are – almost – beyond caring about the detail.

But the press conferences told the real story of who had won most. Ursula von der Leyen and Michel Barnier looked as if they were delivering memorial speeches at a funeral.

As Boris Johnson – who was clearly, and justifiably, not sad at all – made clear, what sovereignty actually means is that our laws will be determined by our own elected parliament and interpreted by our own judges.

03:45 PM

Brexit questions and answers: What happens next for the EU deal?

After almost 10 months of fierce wrangling, negotiations between the UK and EU have concluded with a trade, security and fisheries deal. Now the agreement must be ratified, writes our deputy political editor Lucy Fisher.

With just six days until the UK must, by law, leave the Single Market, the race is on to ensure it takes legal effect by 11pm on December 31.

 Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he holds a remote press conference to update the nation on the post-Brexit trade agreement - Paul Grover/AFP
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he holds a remote press conference to update the nation on the post-Brexit trade agreement - Paul Grover/AFP

EU Ambassadors met in Brussels this morning to start combing through the deal to report back to their respective member states.

EU officials will also continue working behind the scenes all day to prepare the legal text for the agreement.

Your questions about what comes next are answered here.

03:34 PM

'Boris Johnson has delivered Brexit just like he said he would'

While Brexit prematurely ended David Cameron’s premiership and destroyed Theresa May’s, the PM has delivered, just like he said he would, writes Sir Robbie Gibb.

This momentous deal not only marks a new chapter in Britain’s history but will rightly stand as an historic triumph for a Prime Minister who has all too often been misunderstood and maligned.

We were told by critics it was impossible to get a deal of this magnitude done in this time frame. We were told the Government could not represent Britain’s best interests in Brussels while simultaneously battling Covid-19.

 

Boris Johnson speaks to the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen from his desk inside No10 Downing Street - Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street
Boris Johnson speaks to the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen from his desk inside No10 Downing Street - Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street

We were told there would not be enough time to negotiate new trade deals with other nations while fighting on these two major fronts.

Yet here we are. We have a zero-tariff deal which restores our sovereign rights in full. We will no longer have to align with EU rules, nor will we be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Read Robbie's full piece here.

03:24 PM

'UK plc must find its voice again after years in the political wilderness'

The overwhelming feeling among most British businesses at the news of a Brexit deal will be one of relief, writes Ben Wright.

Some will be bitter that it has taken so long and been left until the very last moment. But most understand that the chief attribute required to succeed in negotiation is endurance. 

Few in the business community agreed with Boris Johnson’s talk of the UK “prospering mightily” in the absence of the deal. We now have one - although we will all need some time to assess its substance.

But along with the relief there will be worries too. One is practical. The two sides were always likely to stare each other down until the very last minute. But the lateness of the deal means it will take time to iron out the wrinkles and set up the systems that allow for trade and money to flow between the UK and the EU. 

In the past few weeks, we have received a sharp lesson in what happens when there is disruption at the border. There will be more to come in the new year, with Brexit disruption piled on top of Covid chaos and the usual seasonal surges.

Read more: 'There are plenty of arguments ahead'

03:10 PM

Brexit agreement could unleash dealmaking frenzy, says top investor

Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal is poised to spark a dealmaking frenzy  after years of uncertainty as the country begins a new chapter as an independent nation, a top investor has said.

As business groups and companies across the UK welcomed the historic accord, Richard Buxton of Jupiter Asset Management said it is likely to trigger a surge in mergers and acquisitions by firms seeking an opportunity to grow.

The agreement with the European Union - the most comprehensive ever signed by the bloc - could pave the way for a radical reassessment of the country's markets by international capital, Mr Buxton said. It may also spark a long-overdue boom in business investment after companies held back cash due to fears of a turbulent no-deal exit.

Sterling climbed to $1.3543 shortly before 6pm on Christmas Eve, close to its 2020 peak of $1.3624,  after the deal was finally announced. Stock markets had already closed for the Christmas break.

Rachel Millard has the full story.

02:59 PM

How EU's maths error held up early Christmas announcement

The Union flags were in place and the TV cameras at the ready in Downing St for Boris Johnson to announce the Brexit deal at 7.30 on Wednesday night, report Gordon Rayner and James Crisp.

But after agreeing with Ursula von der Leyen that the deal was done, the Prime Minister was given the bad news: the numbers didn’t add up.

Officials who had been tasked with turning the two leaders’ agreement into a legal text discovered that three per cent of Britain’s fishing quota had mysteriously gone missing, leaving them having to work frantically through the night and into Christmas Eve and delaying the announcement by almost 20 hours.

It meant that Mr Johnson’s greatest achievement as Prime Minister was announced at perhaps the worst time possible, when much of the country was watching Frozen or Death on the Nile.

His delivery was unusually flat, perhaps because of fatigue or a desire to avoid triumphalism, as he finally confirmed a £660 billion deal, the biggest ever signed by Britain or the EU.

02:39 PM

Brexit deal: How European media is reacting

As Britain and the European Union reached a Brexit deal on yesterday, European newspapers reacted with a mixture of relief at the avoidance of no deal and disappointment at the imminent breakup. 

"White smoke after months of negotiations," said Sky TG24, a leading TV network, drawing on the metaphor of the white smoke that traditionally signifies that a Vatican conclave has chosen a new pope. The "nightmare" of a no deal has been averted.

Ansa, the national news agency, cites Boris Johnson's tweet, in which the prime minister, with his thumbs up, announced "the deal is done".

There was much at stake for both sides, not least for the British prime minister, the Italian press reported.

Meanwhile French newspapers praised a "historic deal" reached between Britain and the EU on the eve of Christmas. "It is decidedly very good news," wrote leading French daily Le Monde. 

Read the full round-up from our European correspondents here.

02:25 PM

Video: Brexit deal assessed by EU ambassadors

European Union ambassadors convened on Christmas Day to start assessing the massive free-trade deal the bloc struck with Britain that should kick off next week when the acrimonious Brexit divorce process finally comes to an end.

Santa hats and face masks were all the rage in Brussels , where Michel Barnier briefed colleagues and ambassadors on the deal.

A special meeting of Coreper, made up of heads of and deputy heads of mission from European member states, took place at the European Council building

02:02 PM

Supermarkets begin food airlift as lorry drivers spend Christmas Day in Kent

Major supermarkets have started airlifting in fresh produce as thousands of lorry drivers prepare to spend Christmas in Kent, writes Hayley Dixon.

A chorus of beeping horns sounded at the Port of Dover on Christmas Eve as those at the front of the queue celebrated finally being able to leave - but many more are expected to be stuck there until at least Boxing Day. 

More than 700 hauliers have been cleared for departure since France reopened its border on Wednesday, however, some 5,000 remain stuck.

Today, as drivers settled in for a Christmas Day in their cabs, Local people brought much needed supplies which they pass to grateful drivers both over and under the fence.

French firemen have been drafted in to work with the British military and NHS Test and Trace to speed up testing the thousands of drivers who have been stranded at the port, some for the full five days since the border was closed.

Read the full story here.

01:40 PM

EU ambassadors agree to Brexit deal

The Brexit trade agreement will provisionally enter into force on January 1, with full ratification of the deal by the European Parliament taking place later in the New Year, reports James Crisp

MEPs were furious after their deadline for the deal to be finalised of last Sunday was missed and said they would not ratify the agreement before the end of year no deal deadline. 

Ambassadors wrote to the European Parliament, justifying the need for provisional application of the deal to avoid a damaging no deal. They said the solution would also allow for MEPs to give the agreement full democratic scrutiny. 

"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," an EU diplomat said. 

01:30 PM

EU ambassadors to meet again next week

The draft treaty and associated Brexit agreements stretch to 1,246 pages of legal text - much of which complex.

Officials in Brussels and the capitals of EU states are now scrutinising the fine print, according to the PA news agency.

The EU's Brexit experts on the UK working group will now meet every day in Brussels in order to clarify all aspects of the deal.

After today's meeting with Michel Barnier, ambassadors will hold another meeting before the new year, and potentially as soon as December 28.

01:20 PM

EU states will formally back Brexit deal in days

The 27 European Union states are now expected to formally back the post-Brexit trade deal within days.

Ambassadors from the member states have been briefed on the contents of the deal on Christmas Day by lead EU negotiator Michel Barnier.

They have written to the European Parliament to say they intend to take a decision on the preliminary application of the deal within days.

The timing of the deal forced politicians and officials in the UK and Brussels to tear up Christmas plans.

Members of both Houses will be called back to Westminster on December 30 to vote on the deal. MEPs will give their backdated approval when the European Parliament formally resumes, in the new year.

The Prime Minister has claimed the deal meets the goals set out during the 2016 campaign to "take back control".

01:11 PM

How travel to Europe will change after Brexit

Exact details of the Brexit deal are yet to be revealed, but it will include changes affecting UK travellers.

Meanwhile, since a variant of coronavirus was found in London and the south east, most European countries, along with dozens beyond the continent, have closed their borders to the UK, putting early 2021 holidays at risk.

As the situation develops, some European governments are lifting UK flight bans. Instead, they will require UK travellers to take a Covid-19 test on arrival.

This could put paid to the ski season in the Alps – Switzerland, or perhaps Sweden, might be the only feasible destination – and jeopardise Easter holidays in the Med.

Further changes to how we travel will emerge as more details of the Brexit deal are announced.

Nick Trend examines what we know so far in the key areas.

01:00 PM

Brexit fishing agreement will lead to 'bitter' disappointment, warns federation boss

At yesterday's Downing Street briefing Mr Johnson said "we will as a result of this deal be able to catch and eat quite prodigious quantities of extra fish" - with £100 million for the industry to modernise and expand.

But Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, warned there would be "frustration and anger" across the industry.

Mr Deas told the PA news agency: "In the end it was clear that Boris Johnson wanted an overall trade deal and was willing to sacrifice fishing.

"The industry will be bitterly disappointed that there is not more of definitive break. It’s a bit of a fudge."

12:43 PM

'Christmas isn't cancelled' despite 'year of anxiety', Archbishops tell the nation

“Christmas isn’t cancelled”, the Archbishops will tell the nation, as they encourage worshippers to focus on building back a fairer world following “year of anxiety”, reports Gabriella Swerling.

In his Christmas sermon today at Canterbury Cathedral, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, will speak in the first ever live-streamed festive sermon. 

He is expected to say: “2020 has been for so many the darkness of Covid, of economic crisis, of climate emergency, evils of racism, of war, genocide and persecution. 

“For billions around the world 2020 has been a year walking through the valley of the shadow of death.   “It has been a year of anxiety. Our anxieties are not of that fanciful kind. They spring from the realities of life, familiar to so many in the world, long forgotten by us. "

Read the full report here.

12:26 PM

Job done: David Frost touches down in the UK

Lord David Frost, the UK's chief Brexit negotiator, is back on British soil.

Lord Frost returned to RAF Northolt today following the successful negotiation of a free trade agreement.

Lord David Frost, Chief Brexit Negotiator, returns to the UK at RAF Northolt, Greater London, following succesful post-Brexit Free Trade Deal Negotiations in Brussels with the European Union delegates. - Cpl Nicholas Egan/RAF
Lord David Frost, Chief Brexit Negotiator, returns to the UK at RAF Northolt, Greater London, following succesful post-Brexit Free Trade Deal Negotiations in Brussels with the European Union delegates. - Cpl Nicholas Egan/RAF

12:24 PM

How 'One Day More' from Les Miserables became UK negotiators' Brexit theme song

At times when their spirits were at their lowest, Britain's Brexit negotiators reached for the songbook of one of the West End's biggest musicals for inspiration, writes James Crisp

Exhausted officials took heart from singing hits from Les Miserables, the musical set during the anti-monarchist Paris Uprising of 1832, during marathon Brexit talks with Brussels. 

As the talks dragged deep into the Christmas holidays, officials serenaded each other before descending into the EU's Borshette conference centre, which one UK official said was like a "1970s car park".

The song that grabbed their imaginations and stiffened their spines was the rousing "One Day More", a showstopping call to arms that heralds the eve of the "people's revolution" but also nods to the fears of the outnumbered and outgunned revolutionaries as they meet at the "barricades of freedom".  

"Raise the flag of freedom high," the chorus swells, "there's a new world to be won."

12:05 PM

'Backing the deal is Starmer's chance to move Labour on'

The Christmas miracle of a Brexit deal could not have come at a better time, for the country or for Labour leader, Keir Starmer, writes Tom Harris.

What better way to draw a line under his and his party’s catastrophic judgments over Brexit than to order his troops to vote for the deal when it finally comes before the Commons?

Starmer will, of course, face much opposition from within his own party and from various pro-EU commentators and celebrities, whose disappointment at a deal being agreed will be keenly felt and who will demand that Labour remain as unreconciled as they to our post-EU reality.

But Labour must tread carefully. Indulging these sirens of doom has already cost the party one general election.

Too close an association to the various pro-EU figureheads could prove damaging to Labour, for many of them, having spent the last four years predicting economic disaster, can barely conceal their eagerness to see their own predictions confirmed, to see jobs and living standards sacrificed in order for them to be able to say “I told you so”.

11:49 AM

Brexit deal: 'We seek a brighter partnership with Europe'

Today's Telegraph View - themed around the UK-EU trade deal - begins as follows:

We have a deal. Almost 48 years to the day after the UK entered the Common Market, a new chapter has been opened in our relationship with our continental partners – and that is exactly how Boris Johnson framed it at yesterday’s historic press conference. Not an end but a new beginning.

The trade and security agreement follows months of fraught negotiations that on occasion looked like breaking down completely. That remaining differences have been resolved is a testament to the staying power of the negotiators and the fact that mutual interest was a major impetus for agreement.

That we even have a deal is a vindication of the personal leadership of Boris Johnson. He has done what many said was impossible, and he did it by following a negotiating strategy that some said was bound to – even intended to – lead to a no-deal outcome. The opposite was true.

Read the full piece here.

11:30 AM

Fishing deal met with cautious optimism by bosses

A fishing boss has given a cautiously optimistic reaction to the Brexit deal announced yesterday amid concerns the EU could "wriggle out" of aspects of the agreement.

Jim Portus of the South Western Fish Producers' Organisation monitored the negotiations through the night before the deal was announced.

Mr Portus had previously warned that "no deal or a bad deal" would be damaging to British interests.

He said:"We are all sitting with our fingers crossed hoping for the best for January 1.

"Improved opportunities - even a modicum of extra quotas - and a staged transition would be welcome. So long as it's well-defined and the EU can't wriggle out of it in a few years time."

Some British fisherman feel they have been betrayed by the Government in its trade deal with the EU, accusing Boris Johnson of "bottling it" in the negotiations.

Crew member Nathan Harman sorts fish following the first catch of the day on board the fishing trawler 'About Time' in the English Channel, off the south coast of Newhaven, East Sussex, Britain - Vickie Flores/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Crew member Nathan Harman sorts fish following the first catch of the day on board the fishing trawler 'About Time' in the English Channel, off the south coast of Newhaven, East Sussex, Britain - Vickie Flores/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

As part of the agreement struck between Brussels and London, the EU will return only 25 per cent of the value of fish caught in its waters during a five and a half-year transition period. 

11:23 AM

Pictured: The moment Boris Johnson sealed the deal

New pictures released by Downing Street show Boris Johnson on the phone to Ursula von der Leyen as the deal was finalised and agreed.

 The Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen from his desk inside No10 Downing Street - Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen from his desk inside No10 Downing Street - Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen from his desk inside No10 Downing Street - Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen from his desk inside No10 Downing Street - Andrew Parsons/No 10 Downing Street

11:03 AM

A helping of Brussels this Christmas

Santa hats and face masks are all the rage in Brussels this Christmas, where Michel Barnier is briefing colleagues and ambassadors on the deal.

A special meeting of Coreper, made up of heads of and deputy heads of mission from European member states, is currently taking place at the European Council building.

A collegue wears a Christmas hat as European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier, center, carries a binder of the Brexit trade deal during a special meeting of Coreper, at the European Council building in Brussels - Oliver Hoslet/Pool via AP
A collegue wears a Christmas hat as European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier, center, carries a binder of the Brexit trade deal during a special meeting of Coreper, at the European Council building in Brussels - Oliver Hoslet/Pool via AP
European Union's negotiator Michel Barnier (L) arrives for a meeting of the Committee of the Permanent Representatives of the Governments of the Member States to the European Union (Coreper) - Francois Walschaerts/AFP
European Union's negotiator Michel Barnier (L) arrives for a meeting of the Committee of the Permanent Representatives of the Governments of the Member States to the European Union (Coreper) - Francois Walschaerts/AFP

10:44 AM

Michel Barnier and Lord Frost – the tough and tougher at the heart of the Brexit tussle

After nine months of intensive and complex talks, the UK and EU's chief negotiators have found a trade deal – and mutual respect.

On the British side, David Frost was determined that the same mistakes wouldn't be made twice. 

The UK's chief negotiator was not impressed by the painful history of Brexit negotiations with Brussels, and had long become disillusioned with the European project he once worked for.

In this Monday, March 2, 2020 file photo, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, right, speaks with Britain's chief negotiator David Frost - Olivier Hoslet/Pool via AP/File
In this Monday, March 2, 2020 file photo, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, right, speaks with Britain's chief negotiator David Frost - Olivier Hoslet/Pool via AP/File

Meanwhile Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, could be forgiven for feeling confident. The EU had a seasoned team of veteran trade negotiators.

Experience told them that size matters in trade talks. And Mr Barnier's stock around the EU was high - he had successfully delivered the Withdrawal Agreement, vindicating the first stage of his strategy.

Read the full story of the negotiators who could not have been more different.

10:37 AM

Brexit deal: Barnier briefs ambassadors on contents of agreement

Ambassadors from the 27 European Union members are being briefed on the contents of the historic UK-EU Brexit trade deal this morning.

They are being updated on the deal by Michel Barnier, who led Brussels' negotiating team.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has hailed the deal struck with the EU as a "new beginning" for Britain that resolves the European question that "bedevilled" British politics - and put paid to the prospects of his two predecessors.

The 27 European Union members must still back the deal, which was thrashed out by officials from the European Commission with the UK.

As the deal was struck too late to convene an emergency session of the European Parliament, it will be approved by MEPs retrospectively.

Sebastian Fischer, a spokesman for the German presidency of the Council of the EU, joked that he was looking forward to the diplomats' meeting "because nothing is more fun than to celebrate Christmas among socially distanced colleagues".

French Europe minister Clement Beaune praised what she sees as a "good agreement" and said that the European Union had not accepted a deal "at all costs".

10:21 AM

Erasmus scheme Brexit replacement confirmed by Government

Britain is to replace Erasmus with a new “Turing scheme” which will fund British students to learn abroad, the Prime Minister announced, reports Camilla Turner.

Boris Johnson said the Erasmus student exchange programme - which allows participants to spend time studying abroad in Europe - would be replaced by a worldwide scheme named after Bletchley Park code breaker Alan Turing.

Mr Johnson said "it was a tough decision" to pull out of the programme, which was established in 1987 and has seen millions of European students spend time abroad as part of their degree. 

But he explained that the decision to withdraw from the scheme had been taken on financial grounds. 

He added: "We are doing a UK scheme for students to go around the world, it will be called the Turing scheme. "Students will have the opportunity not just to go to European universities, but the best universities in the world."

Read more: Erasmus decision made on financial grounds

10:05 AM

Brexit trade deal used by Nicola Sturgeon to push Scottish independence

Nicola Sturgeon said it was time for Scotland to become “an independent, European nation” after a trade deal was sealed with Brussels, and accused Boris Johnson of "cultural vandalism" for pulling out of the Erasmus student programme, Daniel Sanderson reports.

The SNP First Minister reiterated that Brexit was happening “against Scotland’s will” after the UK reached agreement over a historic post-Brexit deal with the EU on Christmas eve, four-and-a-half years after 62 per cent of Scots backed remain in the 2016 referendum.

Nicola Sturgeon wanted to revoke Brexit altogether at the 2019 general election campaign. - Andy Buchanan/AFP
Nicola Sturgeon wanted to revoke Brexit altogether at the 2019 general election campaign. - Andy Buchanan/AFP

Her party is set to head into next year’s Holyrood elections seeking a fresh mandate for a new independence vote, and senior figures in the SNP had confirmed the nationalists would have opposed any trade agreement, no matter what was in it.

However, there remain unanswered questions whether an independent Scotland would be allowed to join the EU with the SNP's existing policy of retaining the pound after leaving the UK, while membership of the bloc would also mean relinquishing control of major policy areas such as fisheries.

09:49 AM

Boris Johnson speech: PM calls Brexit deal 'the feast' this Christmas

In his Christmas Eve message, Prime Minister Boris Johnson brandished a copy of the free trade agreement between the UK and the EU and called it 'glad tidings of joy'.

Mr Johnson said 'this is the feast' as he held up the stacks of paper which he says will allow for a 'happy, stable and successful' relationship.

09:43 AM

Ireland welcomes Brexit deal, calling it 'a good compromise'

The Irish government welcomed the Brexit deal and said it was “a good compromise” that protected the Good Friday Agreement although the business sector warned that trade with the UK would suffer, reports John Walsh.

Michael Martin, the Taoiseach, said that while he respects the UK’s decision to leave the EU, he “deeply regrets” the outcome.

“The UK was an important member of the European Union, and Ireland and the UK frequently worked closely together on many EU issues. However, as we now approach the end of the transition period, I wish the UK well in this new chapter in its history.”

Handout photo issued by Julien Behal Photography of Taoiseach Michael Martin delivering an address to the nation  - Tom Honan/PA Wire
Handout photo issued by Julien Behal Photography of Taoiseach Michael Martin delivering an address to the nation - Tom Honan/PA Wire

“The UK will always be a close friend and partner. Our people, our histories and our economies are deeply entwined. As we move into the next phase of our relationship, we will work together to ensure that it remains deep and strong.”

Leo Varadkar, the deputy Prime Minister, said it was “a sad but momentous day.” He added the Northern Ireland Protocol was a vindication of the Irish government’s approach to negotiations as it ensured that there was no hard border on the island.

Dispatch from Dublin: Taoiseach 'regrets but respects' Brexit decision

09:30 AM

Turkey sees in Christmas by welcoming Brexit agreement as UK trade deal nears

Reaction from around the world continues to roll in to the Brexit deal, with Turkey's foreign ministry welcoming the news this morning.

It welcomed the prospect of "new opportunities" to do business on different terms with the UK as two independent trading nations. 

In a statement, the ministry said:

Turkey, having close relations with the UK in all fields, is also an EU candidate country and in customs union with the EU.

We believe that this deal will provide Turkey with new opportunities in terms of its relations both with the EU and the UK.

In this context, the preparations for signing of a Free Trade Agreement between the UK and Turkey have also reached its final stage.

09:19 AM

Brexit deal latest: From fishing to trade, here are the key details

Britain has struck an historic Christmas Eve deal with the European Union just days before the no-deal deadline. 

"The clock is no longer ticking," Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, said after Boris Johnson confirmed that a trade deal worth £660 billion a year had been reached.

The announcement was delayed after a last-minute hitch on fishing rights, but the negotiations had been deadlocked over the issue, the "level playing field" guarantees and the deal's enforcement since March.

The issues were vital for both sides. The EU wanted guarantees that UK companies would not undercut its standards in what it said would be unfair competition with its businesses. Britain said it could not sign up to any deal that tied any future government's ability to split from EU rules.

From governance to the 'level playing field', here is how the deal will look - broken down issue-by-issue.

09:10 AM

Labour Brexit rift emerges as rebels prepare to vote against deal

A series of Labour MPs are set to revolt against Sir Keir Starmer’s decision to whip the party in support of Boris Johnson’s Brexit trade deal, reports Lucy Fisher.

The Labour leader announced on Christmas Eve that his party will “accept and vote for” the Government’s agreement with the EU, but acknowledged it was a “difficult and tough decision”.

Denouncing it as a “thin deal” that will fail to protect British manufacturing, financial services, creative industries and workplace rights, he argued that a no deal outcome would be worse, wreaking “devastating” consequences on the economy and society.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer delivers a virtual statement from the Labour Party headquarters - Stefan Rousseau/PA
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer delivers a virtual statement from the Labour Party headquarters - Stefan Rousseau/PA

“We are at a fork in the road, there are days left, and the choice is either this deal or no deal, and this deal is in the national interest,” he said.

In a briefing for the Parliamentary Labour Party hosted by Rachel Reeves, shadow Cabinet Office Minister, a series of Labour MPs warned that they could not endorse the deal.

Read more: Labour will 'accept and vote for' Boris' Brexit agreement

09:04 AM

Boris Johnson: Brexit deal brings 'glad tidings of great joy'

Boris Johnson has said in his Christmas message that a normal festive season "is one type of Christmas we simply cannot afford to have".

"I think everyone hoped and prayed that things could be - if not normal, then as normal as possible," he said.

"And yet we have had to confront the reality of the new strain of Covid, the speed at which it spreads, and I bet you agree that we had no choice but to take action.

"We are going to succeed in beating coronavirus, and we know that next year really will be better."

The Prime Minister went on to say that Christmas is about hope, rebirth, and renewal - before he brandished a copy of Britain's free trade agreement with the EU.

The deal will bring "glad tidings of great joy", he said, and would act as the basis for a "happy, successful and stable" partnership with Europe in the years to come.

08:51 AM

Good morning - and merry Christmas!

Brexiteers are waking up to their dream present today after a historic £660 million free trade agreement - the first of its kind - was reached yesterday between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Boris Johnson said in a televised address to Britons that the UK has "taken back control of its destiny", and will function as a "newly, truly independent nation".

For your festive morning reads, our man in Brussels James Crisp says that while sacrifices may have been made, this Brexit deal is closer to what Boris Johnson's Government wanted than the Europeans.

And Allister Heath sees the eleventh-hour agreement as a triumph for Johnson's premiership. However, he argues that questions must be answered in three key areas to prove the deal is truly deserving of Brexiteers' support.