Dec 24, 2020
U.K. PM Boris Johnson Brexit Trade Deal Speech Transcript December 24
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a news conference on December 24, after a post-Brexit trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Read the full speech transcript.
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Boris Johnson: (00:19)
Good afternoon, everybody. It’s four and a half years since the British people voted to take back control of their money, their borders, their laws, and their waters, and to leave the European Union. And earlier this year, we fulfilled that promise, in that we left on January the 31st with that oven-ready deal. Since that time, we’ve been getting on with our agenda, enacting the points-based immigration system that you voted for that will come into force on January the 1st, doing free trade deals with 58 countries around the world, and preparing the new relationship with the EU. And there’ve been plenty of people who have told us that the challenges of the COVID pandemic have made this work impossible, and that we should extend the transition period and incur yet more delay. And I rejected that approach precisely because beating COVID is our number one national priority, and I wanted to end any extra uncertainty and to give this country the best possible chance of bouncing back strongly next year.
Boris Johnson: (01:29)
And so I’m very pleased to tell you this afternoon that we have completed the biggest trade deal yet, worth 660 billion pounds a year, a comprehensive Canada-style free trade deal between the UK and the EU. A deal that will protect jobs across this country, a deal that will allow UK goods and components to be sold without tariffs and without quotas in the EU market. A deal which will, if anything, allow our companies and our exporters to do even more business with our European friends, and yet which achieves something that the people of this country instinctively knew was doable, but which they were told was impossible. We’ve taken back control of our laws and our destiny. We’ve taken back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation in a way that is complete and unfettered. From January the 1st, we are outside the customs union and outside the single market. British laws will be made solely by the British parliament, interpreted by UK judges sitting in UK courts, and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will come to an end. We will be able to set our own standards to innovate in the way that we want to originate new frameworks for the sectors in which this country leads the world, from bio- sciences to financial services, artificial intelligence, and beyond. We’ll be able to decide how and where we’re going to stimulate new jobs and new hope with free ports, new green industrial zones. We’ll be able to cherish our landscape and our environment in the way we choose, backing our farmers, backing British food and agricultural production.
Boris Johnson: (03:29)
And for the first time since 1973, we will be an independent coastal state with full control of our waters, with the UK’s share of fish in our waters rising substantially from roughly half today to closer to two thirds in five and a half years time, after which there is no theoretical limit beyond those placed by science or conservation on the quantity of our own fish that we can fish in our waters. And to get ready for that moment, those fishing communities will be helped with a big 100 million pound program to modernize their fleets and the fish processing industry.
Boris Johnson: (04:16)
And I want to stress that although of course the arguments with our European friends and partners were with sometimes fierce, this is, I believe, a good deal for the whole of Europe and for our friends and partners as well. Because it will not be a bad thing, in my view, for the EU to have a prosperous and dynamic and contented UK on your doorstep, and it will be a good thing. It will drive jobs and prosperity across the whole continent, and I don’t think it’d be a bad thing if we in the UK do things differently or take a different approach to legislation, because in so many ways, our basic goals are the same. And in the context of this giant free trade zone that we’re jointly creating, the stimulus of regulatory competition will, I think, benefit us both.
Boris Johnson: (05:17)
And if one side believes it’s somehow being unfairly undercut by the other, then subject to independent third-party arbitration, and provided the measures are proportionate, we can either of us decide as sovereign equals to protect our consumers or businesses. But this treaty explicitly envisages that such actions should only happen infrequently, and the concepts of uniformity and harmonization are banished in favor of mutual respect and mutual recognition and free trade. And for squaring that circle, for finding the philosopher’s stone that’s enabled us to do this, I want to thank President von der Leyen, Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission, our brilliant negotiators led by Lord Frost, Michel Barnier on the EU side, Stéphanie Riso, as well as Oliver Lewis, Tim Barrow, Lindsay Appleby, many others. Their work will be available for scrutiny followed by a parliamentary vote, I hope, on December the 30th.
Boris Johnson: (06:33)
This agreement, this deal above all means certainty. It means certainty for the aviation industry and the hauliers who have suffered so much in the COVID pandemic. It means certainty for the police, the border forces, the security services, all those we rely on across Europe to keep us all safe. It means certainty for our scientists who will be able to work together and continue to work together on great collective projects, because although we want in the UK to be a science superpower, we also want to be a collaborative science superpower. And above all, it means certainty for business, from financial services to our world-leading manufacturers, our car industry. A certainty for all those who are working in high-skill jobs and in firms and factories across the whole country, because there will be no palisade of tariffs on January the 1st, and there’ll be no non-tariff barriers to trade.
Boris Johnson: (07:40)
Instead, there will be a giant free trade zone of which we will at once be a member, and at the same time, be able to do our own free trade deals as one UK, whole and entire. England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales together. And I should stress, this deal was done by a huge negotiating team from every part of the UK, and it will-
Boris Johnson: (08:03)
Negotiating team from every part of the UK, and it will benefit every part of our United Kingdom, helping to unite and level up across the country. And so I say again, directly to our EU friends and partners, I think this deal means a new stability and a new certainty in what has sometimes been a fractious and difficult relationship.
Boris Johnson: (08:27)
We will be your friend, your ally, your supporter. And indeed never let it be forgotten, your number one market. Because although we have left the EU, this country will remain culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically, geologically attached to Europe. Not least of course, through the 4 million EU nationals who have requested to settle in the UK over the last four years, and to make an enormous contribution to our country, and to our lives. And I say to all of you at home at the end of this toughest of years, that our focus in the weeks ahead is of course, on defeating the pandemic, and on beating coronavirus, and rebuilding our economy, and delivering jobs across the country. And I’m utterly confident that we can and will do it. By today, we vaccinated almost 800,000 people. And we’ve also today, resolved the question that has bedeviled our politics for decades. And it is up to us all together, as a newly and truly independent nation, to realize the immensity of this moment and to make the most of it. Happy Christmas to you all, that’s the good news from Brussels. Now for the sprouts, actually it’s now to the media. Let’s go to the media, who I think… We’ve got Laura Kuenssberg. Over to you, Laura.
Laura Kuenssberg: (10:18)
Thank you very much, Prime Minister. We’re yet to see the text of this deal, which we understand runs to some 2000 pages. You’ve presumably had the benefit of pouring over every word, or maybe perhaps not every single word. But can you tell the public, honestly, where did the UK give the most ground? And where did the EU compromise the most, do you think?
Boris Johnson: (10:41)
Thanks, Laura. Well, actually it’s only about 500 pages, and it’s readily intelligible, I think. I think it would be fair to say that we wanted to make sure, for instance, that we got complete control of our fisheries from the get-go, and that’s just to say, we had annual negotiations on fisheries within the shortest possible delay. The EU began with, I think, wanting a transition period of 14 years. We wanted three years. We’ve ended up at five years.
Boris Johnson: (11:25)
I think that was a reasonable transition period. And I can assure great fish fanatics in this country, we will, as a result of this deal, be able to catch and eat quite prodigious quantities of extra fish. So that’s why we’re going to have to make these investments in the fishing sector. Thanks very much, Laura. Let’s go to Robert Peston of ITV. Sorry, Robert. You need to unmute. You need to unmute, Robert.
Robert Peston: (11:58)
Yeah. Prime Minister, you said all along, you wanted a Canada-style deal, but what you’ve agreed means that we in the UK have to follow EU rules on subsidies, on tax, on workers’ rights, on the environment, or potentially incur the imposition of tariffs. That’s right, isn’t it? We’ve just heard Ursula von der Leyen say that she got her a level playing field, which you’ve explicitly rejected all the way through.
Robert Peston: (12:26)
You also just said that would be no non-tariff barriers. Again, that’s not right. From January the 1st, as a result of leaving the customs union, and Michael Gove has been warning about this week in, week out for months. There is a ton of new bureaucracy on British businesses, lots of new non-tariff barriers. So it’s not to say the deal is a bad deal, but you’re not selling it correctly, are you? You’re mis-selling it?
Boris Johnson: (12:48)
No, no. Well, I’m respectfully disagreeing with you because there is indeed a clause in the deal, which is nothing like as damaging as it was. And is in my view, neutralize. Which says that if either country feel that the other one is in some way undercutting them or dumping in some way, then subject to arbitration and provided the measure is proportionate… And that, independent arbitration, not arbitration by the European Court of Justice, but subject to an independent power. They can, if they really choose, put on tariffs to protect their consumers and their businesses.
Boris Johnson: (13:34)
And to give you an example of the kind of thing where that might occur. For instance, in the UK we want to go further on animal welfare standards. And it might be that we do things for instance on how you rear pigs, banning side crates and so on, that would incur extra costs for our pig farmers. And it might be bacon coming from elsewhere, from the EU, was at risk, therefore, of under-cutters. We might under those circumstances consider imposing tariffs. I think it’s highly unlikely, but we might consider it.
Boris Johnson: (14:11)
It would have to be subject to arbitration. It would have to be proportionate according to the arbitrator. And under no circumstances, would we be in any way constrained legally or otherwise by anything that the EU did or chose to do themselves. Nor furthermore, would there be any role for the European Court of Justice. And for people at home who’ve zoned out while I’ve been talking about this, let me tell you, this is a very, very long days march from where we were a few years ago.
Boris Johnson: (14:51)
You will remember, Robert, when we were talking about basically having a common rule book with the EU, and having dynamic alignment with EU law so that the UK was forced to keep step. And that has gone from this treaty, in so far as the EU wanted it, and there is no role for the European Court of Justice whatever. So I think it’s a great treaty. And as for your point about a non-tariff barriers… Yes, I think it’s important to stress.
Boris Johnson: (15:25)
What I’m talking about is barriers on the grounds of your plugs won’t work in our country, therefore they’re banned or whatever, that kind of technical barriers to trade. And there’s a lot in this treaty to try to reduce all that kind of thing, make sure that doesn’t happen. That’s a good thing. That’s a good thing for businesses and consumers. And in that sense, it’s a great free-trade deal. But I must stress to people getting ready for January the 1st that there will be change. So people will need to get on the gov.uk website. Exporters will need their EORI forms and everything else.
Boris Johnson: (16:03)
Site exporters will need their AOL reforms and, and everything else. People should be aware of the change that is coming, but there’s also an opportunity, because for British exporters now the whole world will be treated the same for export purposes. I think that would actually galvanize our exporters’ to think much more positively and dynamically about the opportunities that they have. So I must respectfully disagree with both the points that you made. This is a jumbo Canada style free trade deal of exactly the kind that I think this country needs. As I say, I believe it resolves a longstanding and very, very difficult problem.
Boris Johnson: (16:43)
People said you couldn’t be part of a free trade zone with the EU without being obliged to follow EU laws. If you remember, people were… I think we were told we couldn’t have our cake and eat it and that kind of thing. I’m not going to claim that this is a cake-ist treaty, Robert, but it is, I believe, what the country needs at this time and the right way forward for the UK. Let’s go to Sam Coates of Sky.
Sam Coates: (17:19)
Prime Minister, you say this is an unprecedented deal that observes all of your red lines and promises to the country. Can people trust that life will be better as a result of this deal and that there won’t be any disruption, even in the short term? Can you guarantee the government won’t end up reopening elements of the new relationship in the years to come?
Boris Johnson: (17:39)
Well, Sam, really good questions. I mean, short term, yes, as I said, just now there are things we have to get right, processes that maybe people have to do that they need to be aware of. I’m going to assume that point really is worth reinforcing. I do believe that the freedoms that this treaty wins us, basically a new independence from the EU, are worth having. And so the free ports, free trade deals, being able to do, as I say, to look after your livestock differently, improving your landscape in a different way, doing all sorts of things differently, regulating financial services, differently, chemicals, all sorts of things where we may want to do things differently and better, but I just say to people watching this, I’m sorry for disturbing Cars 3, by the way. To people watching this, I would say it’s one thing to get freedom. Winning freedom is a fantastic thing. This is an important element of what we’ve done, but it’s how we use it, how we make the most of it. That’s what’s going to matter in the months and years to come. I’ve no doubt that we can do fantastic things with this treaty, with this new relationship, which I think will be stable and prosperous for both sides. Let’s go to Tom Newton Dunn of Times Radio.
Tom Newton Dunn: (19:08)
Good afternoon, Prime Minister and thank you. A couple of quick questions, if you don’t mind. Every deal means both sides have to compromise. Do you accept that you have compromised throughout the last 11 months, particularly perhaps the last 11 days from perhaps your earlier slightly absolutist positions, perhaps that was a negotiating ploy, but compromise is not a dirty word. Do you agree with that? Secondly, can you address services because I hadn’t heard you say much about that, 80%, of course, in the UK economy, you say some British companies would do more trade with the EU because of this deal. Will the British service sector, especially in the financial services sector, will they be able to do more trade or less trade?
Boris Johnson: (19:54)
First of all on the compromise point and no, compromise isn’t a dirty word and unquestionably, there are things that we’ve done to help our friends and partners to move things forward. I mentioned, I think to Laura, where we got to on fish. We sorted out wanting a very short transition period of three years. They wanted a much longer one of 14 years. We’ve compromised on that at five and a half and on the vital services sector. Yes, of course. They feature in this deal quite rightly. There’s some good language about equivalence for financial services, perhaps not as much as, as we would have liked, but it is nonetheless, going to enable our dynamic city of London to get on and prosper as never before. There’s some good stuff about barristers, listers, lawyers, being able to practice around the European union.
Boris Johnson: (21:06)
We will be able to continue to have massive and growing economic interpenetration without the need for, what I’ve always talked about, this lunar pool of EU law. As I say, this is something that I think can benefit people on both sides of the channel, be a healthy, dynamic, productive, happy, stable relationship. That’s what we’re aiming for. Let’s go to George Parker of the FT.
George Parker: (21:37)
Thank you, Prime Minister. You Mentioned the change that will happen at the border in any event on January the first. I just wondered if there was anything in this deal where the two sides have agreed to introduce some sort of flexibility at the border, to make sure we don’t have chaos in Dover and Kelly on January the first. Second more general points, you and I used to be reporters in Brussels, and we’ve covered the psychodrama of British EU relations for a number of decades. Nigel Farage said today that the war is over. I just wondered if you saw it in those terms.
Boris Johnson: (22:13)
No. First of all on the border and measures, too, there are all sorts of things in the treaty that you will recognize about trusted traders, schemes, and special measures on the sanitary and phytosanitary recognition and steps to make sure that things flow as smoothly as we possibly can, though again, I stress that there will be things that people have to do. Look, I mean, the EU was and is an extraordinary concept. It was born out of the agony of the second world war, founded by idealistic people in France and Germany, and Italy, who never wanted those countries to go to war with each other again, and other countries, Belgium, Holland, others. In many ways, it was and is a very noble enterprise.
Boris Johnson: (23:14)
I don’t recognize that the kind of language that you talk of. I think that the UK’s own relationship with it was always difficult. We always found some of the language about ever closer union, the idea of this political union, this very dense idea of this ideology of endless integration. We found quite hard, George. And I think you know, as a fellow Brussels reporter, you’ll remember that there was quite a lot of friction involved. I think that what we’ve got here is the basis of a new long-term friendship and partnership that basically stabilizes that relationship and in so far as the UK needs to be and always must be a great European power, always must be a great…
Boris Johnson: (24:03)
… always must be a great European power, always must be a great, great European power. We’re there outside the main body of the EU, but we’re there as a friend and as a supporter, as a flying buttress, if you like that, to make sure, as we have done so many times in the last couple of hundred years, that we’re able to lend our voice when it’s needed, and to be of value to our European friends and partners in a strategic way. And that’s what the UK will obviously continue to do.
Boris Johnson: (24:32)
But I think the very dense program of integration wasn’t right for the UK, and that’s why it was right to take back control in the way that we have. And I think that this deal expresses what the people of the country voted for in 2016. And I think there was a wisdom in what they decided, and I think that we’ll be able to go forward on this basis. Let’s go to Gordon Rayner of the Telegraph.
Gordon Rayner: (25:03)
Thank you, Prime Minister, and Merry Christmas for tomorrow. Could I just ask… Probably half the people watching this right now would have voted “remain” in the referendum in 2016. Do you have a particular message for them? People today are tweeting that this is a bad deal, that it’s not what they wanted. They would rather have stayed in. What’s your message to them? And just, secondly, could I also ask you… We’ve had more figures today on COVID. You mentioned COVID earlier. Can you rule out another national lockdown after Christmas?
Boris Johnson: (25:38)
Gordon, thanks. I think my message to everybody on both sides of the divide, of that argument in 2016, is I really think it’s now a long time behind us. And I think most people that I talk to, whichever way they were inclined to vote back then, just want it settled and want us to move on. And I think this gives us the platform, the foundation, for a really prosperous new relationship. And I would be very excited by this deal. This European question has been going on for decades, exactly what relationship we should have. This is a great, new, free-trade deal, a trading relationship and partnership that I think will bring prosperity to both sides of the Channel.
Boris Johnson: (26:28)
And on coronavirus and the struggle there, obviously, we face very considerable new pressures, particularly from the new variant and the speed with which that’s been spreading. We believe that we’re going to have to get through this tough period, now, with, as I say, as I’ve said many times, very tough restrictions with tough tiering. And you’d have seen what’s been announced over the last day or so, about that. And much as I regret that, I do think it is necessary for us to grip this virus now, to stop it running out of control in January, because we need to buy ourselves time to get the vaccine into as many arms of the elderly and vulnerable as we can.
Boris Johnson: (27:27)
And that is the real way in which we will defeat the virus. So it’s tough tiering, community testing, and rolling out the vaccine. And we’re going to continue with that approach. And I know that it’s been very, very tough over the last few weeks. And I must tell people, it will continue to be difficult, not least, but basically because of the speed with which the new variant is spreading. But the vaccine is going into people’s arms. And there really is, now, I think, hope, certainty, that we will have it defeated, as I say, by the spring. Or that’s certainly what the scientists still believe, and they’re still confident of that. So thanks very much, Gordon. Let’s go to Harry Cole of the Sun.
Harry Cole: (28:23)
Thank you, Prime Minister. Can you give us some more details about these new security arrangements with the EU? Are we going to be as safe next week, under your new security partnership, as we are today, giving that Brussels are saying that they’re going to lock us out of live EU databases? And given you’ve locked us all up, how will you recommend we celebrate leaving the EU next week?
Boris Johnson: (28:46)
Well, Harry, I leave your manner of celebration entirely to you and to individual tastes. I think we’ve done quite enough bossing people around, recommending this or that, over the last 10 months or so. But on security and police cooperation, I’m absolutely confident this is a deal that protects our police corporation. It protects our ability to catch criminals and to share intelligence across the European continent in the way that we have done for many years. So I don’t think people should have fears on that score or, indeed, on any score. Let’s go to Heather Stewart of The Guardian.
Heather Stewart: (29:37)
Hello, Prime Minister. Michel Barnier said today that we decided to leave the Erasmus exchange scheme, which sent thousands of students to EU countries, every year. I wonder what you’d say to young people who feel as though opportunities to discover the continent our doorstep, by living there or studying there or working there, are being taken away from them? And secondly, just do you have a message for Keir Starmer, who’ll have to decide, in the coming hours and days, how to whip Labor MPs, whether they should support your deal?
Boris Johnson: (30:07)
Right. Heather, well, look, on Erasmus, it was a tough decision. The issue really was that, as you know, the UK is a massive net contributor to the continent’s higher education economy because, over the last decades, we’ve had so many EU nationals, which we’ve… It’s been a wonderful thing, but our arrangements basically mean that, financially, the UK Exchequer, more or less, loses out on the deal. Erasmus was also extremely expensive. So what we’re doing is producing a UK scheme for students to go around the world, and it will be called the Turing Scheme, named after Alan Turing. So the students might have the opportunity not just to go to European universities, but to go to the best universities in the world, because we want our young people to experience the immense intellectual stimulation of Europe, but also of the whole world.
Boris Johnson: (31:13)
And as for… I think you asked about which way should the opposition vote on this? Well, it’s perfectly obvious. Head of the opposition should vote for this excellent deal. And I would strongly encourage everybody to do the same. Thank you very much, everybody. Happy Christmas to you all. Thank you.