Boris Johnson hailed a £660 billion Brexit trade deal which finally “takes back control” from the EU more than four years after Britain voted to leave it.
The Prime Minister said the Christmas Eve deal resolves the European question which has “bedevilled” British politics for generations.
He said that in negotiating a “jumbo” free trade agreement with Brussels, his negotiating team had achieved what cynics claimed was “impossible” but which the British people “instinctively” knew could be done.
The deal, which allows British businesses to continue trading with Europe free of tariffs or quotas, was held up by a last-minute hitch over the EU’s calculations on fishing rights.
It was finally resolved after an all-night session in Brussels which stretched into the afternoon of Christmas Eve before being sealed with a thumbs-up by Mr Johnson in a video call with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.
The Prime Minister said the deal would protect jobs, provide certainty to business, and give the country “the best possible chance of bouncing back strongly” after Covid.
In a Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said: “We have taken back control of our laws and our destiny. We have taken back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation in a way that is complete and unfettered.
“From January 1 we are outside the customs union and outside the single market.
“British laws will be made solely by the British Parliament interpreted by British judges sitting in UK courts and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will come to an end.”
Addressing the cynics who said such a deal could not be done, he said it “achieves something that the people of this country instinctively knew was doable but which they were told was impossible”.
The final obstacle to a deal – an agreement on fishing rights – was cleared when Mr Johnson dropped his demand for the EU to give back 50 per cent of its quotas on Jan 1 and accepted a 25 per cent return.
The EU, which had initially demanded a 14-year transition period on fishing rights, came down to a five and a half year transition, during which Britain will gradually increase its share to two thirds of all fish in UK waters, before regaining full sovereignty and allocating quotas on an annual basis.
The European Court of Justice will have no role in the UK from Jan 1, and Britain will be free to pursue free trade deals with other countries – of which it has already secured 61 – while also retaining free trade with the EU.
In a last minute concession, Brussels dropped its demands to be able to impose “lightning tariffs” on Britain without the need to go to arbitration. There will also be a four-year review of how the deal is working, at which point the deal could be renegotiated or Britain could pull the plug on the trade agreement.
The 500-page agreement will now be put to a vote in Parliament on Dec 30, and must also be ratified by the European Parliament and the 27 member states.
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said his party would vote for the deal, because in a moment of such national importance it was “not credible for Labour to be on the sidelines”.
Mr Johnson said the final deal was “a very, very long day’s march away” from Theresa May’s Chequers deal, over which he resigned as foreign secretary, which had proposed a common rulebook and dynamic alignment.
Britain will be free to diverge from European rules and regulations, though the EU will be entitled to appeal to an independent arbitration body if it believes Britain has given itself an unfair competitive advantage, which could result in the imposition of tariffs.
Co-operation will continue on issues including climate change, energy, security and transport, and the services industry – which accounts for 80 per cent of British exports – is included in the deal, though with some concessions by the UK.
Mr Johnson said: “There is some good language about equivalence for financial services, perhaps not as much 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.”
Mrs von der Leyen said: “We have finally found an agreement. It was a long and winding road, but we have got a good deal to show for it.
“It is fair, it is a balanced deal, and it is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides.”
Mrs von der Leyen said she felt “quiet satisfaction” and “relief” that a deal had been concluded.
“It is time to leave Brexit behind, our future is made in Europe,” she added.
The European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs has promised to convene a “star chamber” of lawyers to pore over the details of the deal, though with Labour promising to back it any Tory rebellion is likely to be symbolic rather than decisive.
EU diplomats will receive a Christmas Day briefing from Brussels’ lead negotiator Michel Barnier.
Business leaders welcomed the trade deal, saying it had come as a “huge relief”, despite being so late in the day.
Tony Danker, CBI director general, said: “Firms will immediately study the details, when they can, to understand the implications for their companies, customers and clients but immediate guidance from government is required across all sectors.
“Above all, we need urgent confirmation of grace periods to smooth the cliff edge on everything from data to rules of origin and we need to ensure we keep goods moving across borders.”