Deal hailed by Johnson contains opportunities for future disagreements

Analysis: There is no chance that the deal will be rejected in next week’s Commons vote

Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson gestures as he holds a remote press conference to announce the reaching of a Brexit trade deal. Photograph: Getty

Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson gestures as he holds a remote press conference to announce the reaching of a Brexit trade deal. Photograph: Getty

 

Standing before a row of union flags in Downing Street as he welcomed the post-Brexit agreement with the EU, Boris Johnson was eager to emphasise the sovereignty it restored to Britain.

He said the deal meant taking back control of Britain’s laws and “every jot and tittle of our regulation” in a complete and unfettered way.

And he presented the compromise on EU access to British fishing waters as one which favoured Britain.

“We will be an independent coastal state with full control of our waters, with the UK share of fish in our waters rising substantially from roughly half today to closer to two thirds in five and a half years’ time,” he said.

“We wanted three years, we’ve ended up with five years. I think that was a reasonable transition period.”

Johnson’s message to his fellow Brexiteers, notably the hardliners on this Conservative backbenches, was that his deal was utterly different from the arrangements proposed by Theresa May.

Hers would have kept Britain effectively in the EU customs union and dynamically aligned to the single market rulebook.

The deal agreed on Christmas Eve gives Britain regulatory autonomy but if it chooses to diverge from EU standards, it could see tariffs imposed on some of its exports.

Crucially for the Brexit true believers, there will be no role for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in arbitrating disputes.

With Keir Starmer promising that Labour will vote for the deal, there is no chance that it will be rejected in next week’s Commons vote.

But Johnson wants his deal to be celebrated by his own supported as the Brexit they voted for in 2016 and all the signs are that he will achieve that.

Conservative-supporting newspapers including the Sun and the Daily Mail welcomed the deal before it was agreed, hailing it as a triumph for Johnson. Nigel Farage announced that “the war is over” and that Brexit had now been accomplished, even suggesting that he could vote for the deal if he was an MP.

Among the most interesting moments in the prime minister’s press conference was when he rejected the characterisation of Britain’s relationship with the EU as a war and praised the European project.

“The EU was and is an extraordinary concept, and it was born of the agony of the Second World War and it was founded by idealistic people in France and Germany and Italy who never wanted those countries to go to war again. In many ways it was and is a noble enterprise,” he said.

Johnson suggested that, freed from its “very dense programme of integration”, Britain will be the EU’s strongest ally and a reliable partner with shared goals and values.

Such a partnership may be possible in the future but the agreement reached on Christmas Eve also creates opportunities for future disagreements and conflict, as Switzerland’s relationship with the EU demonstrates.

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