The U.K. and the EU announced Thursday they have agreed a trade deal that will avoid tariffs when Britain exits the Brexit transition period at the end of the year.
“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 and it is a balanced deal,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference in Brussels.
In London, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters: “This deal means a new stability and new certainty in what sometimes has been a fractious and difficult relationship.”
Johnson also had a message for the EU: “We will be your friend, your ally, your supporter, and indeed, never let it be forgotten, your No. 1 market. Because although we will have left the EU, this country will remain culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically, geologically attached to Europe.”
But the British leader couldn’t resist a dig at the EU, after the final days of negotiation got snagged on future fishing quotas in U.K. waters and detailed discussions of individual species: He wore a tie printed with tiny fish for the historic announcement and spoke of a future where Britons will “be able to catch and eat quite prodigious quantities of extra fish.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, while welcoming the Christmas Eve deal along with other European leaders including Germany’s Angela Merkel, also alluded to the emotive issue of fish, saying the EU’s “unity and firmness” would ensure protection for the Continent’s fishing industry.
Negotiators had been under huge pressure because of fears there wouldn’t be enough time to turn any agreement into law before the end of the transition period on December 31, meaning the two sides could end up trading on unfavorable World Trade Organization terms.
The deal is a boost to both Johnson and EU leaders, all of who were anxious not to be blamed if the U.K. crashed out without some kind of agreement.
“Negotiations were difficult … but it was such a wide-reaching agreement … that it was worth fighting for it,” von der Leyen said.
“Competition in our single market will be fair and remain so. The EU rules and standards will be respected. We have effective tools to react if fair competition is distorted and impacts our trade.”
A U.K. government spokesperson said: “This agreement allows the beginning of a new relationship between the U.K. and the EU. One that we have always wanted — a thriving trading and economic relationship between a sovereign U.K. and our European partners and friends.”
“For the British people the deal delivers the objectives of the 2016 referendum and the 2019 election, and it will bring significant benefits for both the U.K. and the EU,” the spokesperson added.