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Brexit: Boris Johnson hails free trade deal with EU – BBC News

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.css-14iz86j-BoldTextfont-weight:bold;The EU and UK have reached a post-Brexit trade deal, ending months of disagreements over fishing rights and future business rules.

At a Downing Street press conference, Boris Johnson said: “We have taken back control of our laws and our destiny.”

The text of the agreement has yet to be released, but the PM claimed it was a “good deal for the whole of Europe”.

The UK is set to exit EU trading rules next Thursday – a year after officially leaving the 27 nation bloc.

It will mean big changes for business, with the UK and EU forming two separate markets, and the end of free movement.

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  • Kuenssberg: Johnson gets the deal both sides wanted to achieve
  • What just happened with Brexit?
  • How EU leaders reacted to post-Brexit trade deal

But the trade deal will come as a major relief to many British businesses, already reeling from the impact of coronavirus, who feared disruption at the borders and the imposition of tariffs, or taxes on imports.

As the deal was announced, Mr Johnson – who had repeatedly said the UK would “prosper mightily” without a deal – tweeted a picture of himself smiling with both thumbs lifted in the air.

In a press conference in Brussels, European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen said: “This was a long and winding road but we have got a good deal to show for it.”

She said the deal was “fair” and “balanced” and it was now “time to turn the page and look to the future”. The UK “remains a trusted partner,” she added.

At his press conference, Boris Johnson said the £668bn a year agreement would “protect jobs across this country” and “enable UK goods to be sold without tariffs, without quotas in the EU market”.

He acknowledged he had been forced to give ground on his demands on fishing.

“The EU began with I think wanting a transition period of 14 years, we wanted three years, we’ve ended up at five years,” he said.

And he said the UK had not got all it wanted on financial services, a vital part of the UK economy, but he insisted the deal was “nonetheless going to enable our dynamic City of London to get on and prosper as never before”.

Most of the UK – except from Northern Ireland – will no longer participate in the Erasmus student exchange scheme, which Mr Johnson said was because it is “extremely expensive” – but a British option called the Turing Scheme will provide an alternative, he added.

Students in NI will still be able to take part thanks to an arrangement with the Irish government.

The UK’s chief trade negotiator Lord Frost said the full text of the free trade agreement would be published soon.

The UK Parliament will be recalled on 30 December to vote on the deal – it will also need to be ratified by the European Parliament.

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Labour to back deal

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – who campaigned against Brexit – said his party would vote for the deal in the Commons, ensuring it will pass.

He said it was “a thin agreement” that “does not provide adequate protections” for jobs, manufacturing, financial services or workplace rights and “is not the deal the government promised”.

But with no time left to renegotiate, the only choice was between “this deal or no deal,” he added.

No deal would have “terrible consequences for this country and the Labour Party cannot allow that to happen”, said the Labour leader, and that was why he had decided to back it.

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The basics

  • A Brexit deal has been agreed, days before a deadline. It means that the UK and the EU can continue to trade without extra taxes being put on goods – but we don’t know all the details yet.
  • What took so long? The UK voted to leave the EU in 2016 and actually left on 31 January 2020, but leaders had until the end of 2020 to work out a trade deal.
  • There are big changes ahead. Although it’s a trade deal that has been agreed, there will also be changes to how people travel between the EU and UK, and to the way they live and work.

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‘Against Scotland’s will’

Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford said a deal was better than no deal but criticised the timing just a week before the UK exits the EU single market and customs union.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Brexit is happening against Scotland’s will – and there is no deal that will ever make up for what Brexit takes away from us.

“It’s time to chart our own future as an independent, European nation.”

Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Micheál Martin said he would study the text of the deal but added: “From what we have heard today, I believe that it represents a good compromise and a balanced outcome.”

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage – who played a leading role in the campaign to get the UK out of the EU in the 2016 referendum – told the BBC the deal was “far from perfect” and that for fisheries in particular it was a “rotten deal” – but added: “It’s a lot better off than we were five years ago.”

One fishing industry representative said the UK had made “significant concessions on fish”, and “there will be a lot of disappointed and frustrated fishermen tonight”.

“There will certainly be those that see this as selling out “, said Barrie Deas, the head of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations.

Negotiations in Brussels went down to the wire over what EU fishing boats are allowed to catch in UK waters. Fishing makes up just 0.12% of the UK’s economy.

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Analysis box by Laura Kuenssberg, political editor

It is a massive achievement for both sides that they have done such a huge trade deal on the timetable that was said to be impossible at the start.

Whatever your personal view, there’s a sense of vindication in the camp of those who campaigned to leave the EU – they got a free trade deal with zero quotas and zero tariffs (although there may be some before you scream) but the UK will not be under European law.

It’s no coincidence that David Frost’s number two, Oliver Lewis, wrote the Vote Leave manifesto. No 10 believes the PM, who was propelled to his position by the Vote Leave tribe, has been able to keep his central Brexit promises.

Look out for the “rebalancing clause” when the deal finally emerges – the mechanism where either side can request a change to the deal, or seek to punish the other side if they believe they are breaking the agreement.

In short, the UK side believes it means they have been able to achieve two clear objectives: the deal applies to both sides, it’s reciprocal, but there is the possibility of exit if things go wrong, without collapsing the whole shebang.

But it’s Christmas Eve, so I suspect you agree that’s enough for now. The vote in Parliament is set for the 30th. The result is not in doubt, but the theory that’s been agreed tonight, will only be tested in years to come.

Read more from Laura on Twitter and her latest blog here.

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The government’s economic watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, had warned that leaving without a deal would have shrunk the national income by 2% next year and led to major job losses.

There were also concerns it would lead to higher prices in the shops for many imported goods.

There are still big question marks about what the deal will mean for the rest of British business.

Firms that trade with the 27 member states have carried on as normal for the past year during the so-called transition period that kicked in when Britain left the EU.

They will still face extra paperwork when the country leaves the EU single market and customs union next week.

But the threat of tariffs – import taxes – between the UK and its biggest trading partner will be removed.

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Boris Johnson hails Biden as ‘a big breath of fresh air’

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”, and praised his determination to work with allies on important global issues ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to security.

Johnson did not draw an explicit parallel between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump after talks with the Democratic president in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay on the eve of a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies.

But his comments made clear Biden had taken a much more multilateral approach to talks than Trump, whose vision of the world at times shocked, angered and bewildered many of Washington’s European allies.

“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of a meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.

“It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects,” he said. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together.”

The two leaders appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the Atlantic alongside their wives, with Jill Biden wearing a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”.

“It’s a beautiful beginning,” she said.

Though Johnson said the talks were “great”, Biden brought grave concerns about a row between Britain and the European Union which he said could threaten peace in the British region of Northern Ireland, which following Britain’s departure from the EU is on the United Kingdom’s frontier with the bloc as it borders EU member state Ireland.

The two leaders did not have a joint briefing after the meeting: Johnson spoke to British media while Biden made a speech about a U.S. plan to donate half a billion vaccines to poorer countries.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, was keen to prevent difficult negotiations between Brussels and London undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Britain that Biden had a “rock-solid belief” in the peace deal and that any steps that imperilled the accord would not be welcomed.

Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.

Johnson sought to play down the differences with Washington.

“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.

Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, he said: “No he didn’t.

“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground.”

The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.

Britain’s exit from the EU has strained the peace in Northern Ireland. The 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets but a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.

Johnson’s Downing Street office said he and Biden agreed that both Britain and the EU “had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Padraic Halpin, John Chalmers; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)

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U.S. senator slams Apple, Amazon, Nike, for enabling forced labor in China

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U.S. senator

A U.S. senator on Thursday slammed American companies, including Amazon.com Inc, Apple Inc and Nike Inc, for turning a blind eye to allegations of forced labor in China, arguing they were making American consumers complicit in Beijing’s repressive policies.

Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on China’s crackdown on Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in its western Xinjiang region, Republican Senator Marco Rubio said many U.S. companies had not woken up to the fact that they were “profiting” from the Chinese government’s abuses.

“For far too long companies like Nike and Apple and Amazon and Coca-Cola were using forced labor. They were benefiting from forced labor or sourcing from suppliers that were suspected of using forced labor,” Rubio said. “These companies, sadly, were making all of us complicit in these crimes.”

Senator Ed Markey, who led the hearing with fellow Democrat Tim Kaine, said a number of U.S. technology companies had profited from the Chinese government’s “authoritarian surveillance industry,” and that many of their products “are being used in Xinjiang right now.”

Thermo Fisher Scientific said in 2019 it would stop selling genetic sequencing equipment into Xinjiang after rights groups and media documented how authorities there were building a DNA database for Uyghurs. But critics say the move didn’t go far enough.

“All evidence is that they continue to provide these products which enabled these human rights abuses,” Rubio said of Thermo Fisher, noting that he had written the Massachusetts-based company repeatedly about the matter.

“Whenever we receive proof of forced labor, we take action and suspend privileges to sell,” an Amazon spokesperson said.

Coca-Cola declined to comment. The other companies mentioned did not respond immediately to Reuters’ questions.

U.S. lawmakers are seeking to pass legislation that would ban imports of goods made in Xinjiang over concerns about forced labor.

Rights groups, researchers, former residents and some western lawmakers say Xinjiang authorities have facilitated forced labor by arbitrarily detaining around a million Uyghurs and other primarily Muslim minorities in a network of camps since 2016.

The United States government and parliaments in countries, including Britain and Canada, have described China’s policies toward Uyghurs as genocide. China denies abuses, saying the camps are for vocational training and to counter religious extremism.

Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, told the Senate panel that Beijing’s “extreme repression and surveillance” made human rights due diligence for companies impossible.

“Inspectors cannot visit facilities unannounced or speak to workers without fear of reprisal. Some companies seem unwilling or unable to ascertain precise information about their own supply chains,” she said.

 

(Reporting by Michael Martina, Richa Naidu, Aishwarya Venugopal and Jeffrey Dastin; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Health

Biden’s vaccine pledge ups pressure on rich countries to give more

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The United States on Thursday raised the pressure on other Group of Seven leaders to share their vaccine hoards to bring an end to the pandemic by pledging to donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to the world’s poorest countries.

The largest ever vaccine donation by a single country will cost the United States $3.5 billion but Washington expects no quid pro quo or favours for the gift, a senior Biden administration official told reporters.

U.S. President Joe Biden‘s move, on the eve of a summit of the world’s richest democracies, is likely to prompt other leaders to stump up more vaccines, though even vast numbers of vaccines would still not be enough to inoculate all of the world’s poor.

G7 leaders want to vaccinate the world by the end of 2022 to try to halt the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 3.9 million people and devastated the global economy.

A senior Biden administration official described the gesture as a “major step forward that will supercharge the global effort” with the aim of “bringing hope to every corner of the world.” “We really want to underscore that this is fundamentally about a singular objective of saving lives,” the official said, adding that Washington was not seeking favours in exchange for the doses.

Vaccination efforts so far are heavily correlated with wealth: the United States, Europe, Israel and Bahrain are far ahead of other countries. A total of 2.2 billion people have been vaccinated so far out of a world population of nearly 8 billion, based on Johns Hopkins University data.

U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have agreed to supply the U.S. with the vaccines, delivering 200 million doses in 2021 and 300 million doses in the first half of 2022.

The shots, which will be produced at Pfizer’s U.S. sites, will be supplied at a not-for-profit price.

“Our partnership with the U.S. government will help bring hundreds of millions of doses of our vaccine to the poorest countries around the world as quickly as possible,” said Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla.

‘DROP IN THE BUCKET’

Anti-poverty campaign group Oxfam called for more to be done to increase global production of vaccines.

“Surely, these 500 million vaccine doses are welcome as they will help more than 250 million people, but that’s still a drop in the bucket compared to the need across the world,” said Niko Lusiani, Oxfam America’s vaccine lead.

“We need a transformation toward more distributed vaccine manufacturing so that qualified producers worldwide can produce billions more low-cost doses on their own terms, without intellectual property constraints,” he said in a statement.

Another issue, especially in some poor countries, is the infrastructure for transporting the vaccines which often have to be stored at very cold temperatures.

Biden has also backed calls for a waiver of some vaccine intellectual property rights but there is no international consensus yet on how to proceed.

The new vaccine donations come on top of 80 million doses Washington has already pledged to donate by the end of June. There is also $2 billion in funding earmarked for the COVAX programme led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), the White House said.

GAVI and the WHO welcomed the initiative.

Washington is also taking steps to support local production of COVID-19 vaccines in other countries, including through its Quad initiative with Japan, India and Australia.

(Reporting by Steve Holland in St. Ives, England, Andrea Shalal in Washington and Caroline Copley in Berlin; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Keith Weir;Editing by Leslie Adler, David Evans, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Giles Elgood and Jane Merriman)

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