Brexit: Boris Johnson bids to woo potential Tory rebels ahead of vote as trade deal published

·3-min read

Boris Johnson has appealed to hardline Eurosceptic Tory MPs to back his post-Brexit trade agreement in next week's 11th-hour vote.

The prime minister admitted "the devil is in the detail" of the more than 1,000-page treaty due to come into force from 1 January, but insisted it is "the right deal for the UK and the EU".

He is expected to win comfortably when MPs are recalled from their Christmas break next Wednesday to ratify the text, which was published today by both sides.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to support it and is expected to whip his MPs to do the same, thus almost guaranteeing it will pass.

But there are some on Mr Johnson's side who wish the UK were exiting the transition period without a deal, meaning trade with Brussels would revert to baseline World Trade Organisation rules.

In a bid to quash any potential rebellion, he claimed the breakthrough in negotiations on Christmas Eve was a victory and that the deal "delivered on every one of our manifesto commitments".

"I believe we now have a basis for long term friendship and partnership with the Eu as sovereign equals," the prime minister wrote in a WhatsApp message to MPs seen by Sky News.

"I know the devil is in the detail but I am sure this can survive the most ruthless and Talmudic scrutiny from the star chamber legal eagles."

The so-called "star chamber" is a panel of lawyers assembled by the European Research Group, including veteran Brexiteer Sir Bill Cash, and is likely to meet tomorrow.

Some MPs are waiting on his judgement before deciding how to vote, with one telling Sky News on Thursday that they "need to study the small print before committing" and are still "waiting to hear the verdict of Sir Bill".

In a final appeal to his party, Mr Johnson signed off the message by telling them: "We must remember that what the public want us to do is focus above all on defeating COVID and rebuilding our economy and I am glad that at least one uncertainty is now out of the way."

He added: "P.S. On fish, we are talking hundreds of thousand of tonnes more even in the transition period! Enough fish to stretch to the South Pole and back!"

Negotiations went down to the wire but ended with a breakthrough on Christmas Eve, with a Number 10 source confirming the "deal is done" at 2:45pm.

Minutes later, the news was announced officially by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen who said talks had been "tough but fair" and "successful".

And later that afternoon, Mr Johnson held a Downing Street news conference to declare the agreement meant "taking back control of our laws and our destiny".

"This country will remain culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically, geologically attached to Europe," he added.

It took two further days for the full trade deal to be published. It runs to 1,246 pages and includes additional protocols on combatting fraud, assistance with customs and social security coordination.

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the government "must publish practical explainers as soon as possible for firms that lack the time/resources to interpret an international agreement".

And on the issue of fishing - one of the final stumbling blocks in talks and a totemic issue in the UK's fight to reclaim sovereignty - the government was accused of giving too much ground.

Barrie Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, said there will be "frustration and anger" across the industry, adding: "In the end it was clear that Boris Johnson wanted an overall trade deal and was willing to sacrifice fishing."