EU ambassadors to begin approval of Brexit trade deal as UK warned to get ready
By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent
European ambassadors will begin the process of approving the post-Brexit trade deal, as Britons were urged to prepare for life without the EU’s benefits.
The diplomats will meet on Monday to determine how they can provisionally approve the deal covering £660 billion of trade in time for the end of the transition period on Thursday.
Tory Eurosceptics were urgently poring over the details of the treaty brokered on Christmas Eve ahead of MPs being recalled to vote on the deal on Wednesday.
Cabinet Minister Michael Gove was urging UK citizens to take out comprehensive travel insurance to cover health costs and check their mobile roaming policies to avoid charges if they are travelling to the EU.
He also warned businesses that the time is “very short” to make the final preparations before the UK begins trading with its biggest trading partner and minimise what he said would amount to “some disruption”.
“In just three days’ time the Brexit transition period will end and we will have finally regained our independence,” he added.
Conservative grandee Lord Heseltine urged MPs and peers to abstain when voting on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s trade deal, warning it will inflict “lasting damage” on the UK.
The former deputy prime minister said he will “in no way share the endorsement of the legislation”, but that he will not vote against it because the consequences of a no-deal would be even graver.
But it is likely to pass through both Houses, with Labour ordering its MPs to vote for the “thin” treaty because the only other option is a chaotic departure without a trade deal.
The IPPR think tank warned that the “weaker than expected” protections in the treaty leaves workers’ rights and environmental protections at risk of erosion.
But the Prime Minister denied the UK would regress on workers’ rights and environmental standards, two issues both sides have committed to uphold in the deal.
“All that’s really saying is the UK won’t immediately send children up chimneys or pour raw sewage all over its beaches. We’re not going to regress, and you’d expect that,” he told the Sunday Telegraph.
The Prime Minister did acknowledge that the treaty “perhaps does not go as far as we would like” over access to EU markets for financial services.
But he said that Chancellor Rishi Sunak is “doing a big exercise” on business taxes and regulation alongside a “great Government effort” for change in the new year.
Mr Sunak said the nation will be able to “do things a bit differently” now, referencing new opportunities for the financial sector, and said the deal should leave those anxious about the financial impact “enormously reassured”.
“I actually think this deal can represent an enormously unifying moment for our country and bring people together after the divisions of the past few years,” he told broadcasters.
But the chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisation (NFFO), Barrie Deas, accused Mr Johnson of having “bottled it” on fishing quotas to secure only “a fraction of what the UK has a right to under international law”.
Mr Deas said the Prime Minister had “sacrificed” fishing to other priorities, with the subject proving to be an enduring sticking point during negotiations.
A hasty analysis of the treaty secured on Christmas Eve began in earnest when it was published in full on Boxing Day – less than a week before its implementation.
The self-styled “star chamber” of lawyers led by veteran Eurosceptic MP Sir Bill Cash and assembled by the European Research Group of Tory Brexiteers was expected to reveal its verdict on Tuesday.
But there were indications Brexit hardliners were preparing to support the deal, despite being angered by the little time they have to debate it.
Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader in Westminster, said his party would vote against the “unforgivable act of economic vandalism and gross stupidity” which he argued is a “very bad deal for Scotland”.
Meanwhile, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said she expects to sign a continuity trade agreement with Turkey this week, a move that was not possible until the deal with the EU was struck because Ankara is in a customs union with the bloc.
On Monday EU ambassadors will “take the decision to provisionally apply the EU-UK agreement by written procedure” and begin the process of approving the deal when they meet in Brussels, one diplomat said.
Their provisional approval is expected in the coming days ahead of the European Parliament’s formal ratification in the new year.