Brexit trade deal can be 'unifying moment for our country', Rishi Sunak says

·4-min read

The Brexit trade deal agreed on Christmas Eve can be an "enormously unifying moment for our country", the chancellor has said.

Rishi Sunak said he hoped it would "bring people together after the divisions of the past few years".

Anyone worried about the economic implications of the break with Brussels should be "enormously reassured about the comprehensive nature" of the agreement, he added.

The deal gives that reassurance, he said, because it provides a "stable regulatory co-operative framework".

The chancellor said the UK would "maintain tariff-free access to European markets" while being able to "capitalise on new opportunities".

Mr Sunak said the country's financial services industry would remain open for new relationships and trading.

But he said there could also be changes in the financial world because leaving the EU means we can "do things a bit differently".

He added: "We will remain in close dialogue with our European partners when it comes to things like equivalence decisions."

Sky News political correspondent Joe Pike said the chancellor was "in reassurance mode" but that the only unity for those in the fishing industry was the frustration at the details of the deal.

EU fishing fleets will have their access to UK waters reduced by 25%. But it will only happen gradually - over a transition period of five-and-a-half years. After that, quotas will be decided by annual negotiations.

There are claims the deal is "pathetic" and that the government has "caved in" and "rolled over", said Pike.

But the fact that both main parties are backing the next step in the Brexit journey, means certain victory for the prime minister in parliament.

"That, therefore, provides a rare bit of stability for Rishi Sunak, who is now focussed on steering the economy through the choppy waters of COVID-19 and towards a new place in the world," Pike said.

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds told Sky News that while it was a "relief" that a deal had been secured, there was still a lot of concern among businesses.

"There will be people struggling to understand what this deal means for them - this is a real scramble for a lot of businesses to get ready for," she said.

On the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Sunak said the government had "made good" on its promise to provide the NHS with everything it needs.

The UK is making "really good progress" on rolling out the coronavirus vaccine, he said.

His comments came as the pharmaceutical boss behind the Oxford vaccine said researchers had found a "winning formula" to improve the jab's efficacy.

The chancellor's remarks on the Brexit deal echo those of the prime minister, who has described it as the beginning of a "better relationship and a healthier relationship" with the EU.

"It's the end of a long and fractious period, in which we kept trying to pretend to ourselves that we could go along with all sorts of things we didn't really want to do for the sake of keeping up with the great project of European Union," Boris Johnson told The Sunday Telegraph.

"Freedom is what you make of it," he added. "It's up to us now to seize the opportunities, but we have a very big challenge with COVID-19."

He said he hoped voters would be "deeply reassured" that a resolution had been found to "an issue that has bedevilled our politics for decades".

The prime minister also maintained that a no-deal outcome had been a possibility.

He said that he and his chief Brexit negotiator, Lord Frost, had reached the "conclusion several times that things were going in the wrong direction and that our best bet was to go for no deal".

Mr Johnson added: "We made that clear to the EU. I really would have done it, believe me."

The PM said his government would not diverge from the EU "for the sake of diverging".

But he said the UK would begin to go its own way "where that's useful for the British people".

"This government has a very clear agenda to unite and level up and to spread opportunity across the country," he said.

In the area of business taxes and regulation, Mr Johnson said the chancellor was "doing a big exercise on all of this".