Boris Johnson holds first phone call with Charles Michel as EU deal still 'under scrutiny'

MPs in Britain will vote on the deal in a special sitting of Parliament called for Wednesday. 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 European Parliament must also formally ratify the deal in the new year – although this will now apply retrospectively.

The agreement came as ministers stepped up calls for businesses and individuals to prepare for the new procedures that will apply in just four days’ time, regardless of the agreement.

Mr Michel tweeted: “Call with @BorisJohnson. Discussed the Flag of European Union Flag of United Kingdom fair and balanced agreement still under scrutiny by @EUCouncil and @Europarl_EN.

“Looking forward to cooperate on COVID, a possible Treaty on pandemics; climate ahead of COP26 and foreign policy issues as allies sharing common values.”

Following the phone call, Mr Johnson described the UK’s trade deal with the EU as a new starting point for relations with the bloc.

The Prime Minister said on Twitter: “Just spoken with @eucopresident Charles Michel.

“I welcomed the importance of the UK/EU Agreement as a new starting point for our relationship, between sovereign equals.

“We looked forward to the formal ratification of the agreement and to working together on shared priorities, such as tackling climate change.”

The call between the two leaders came after EU ambassadors had given provisional approval for the trade deal between London and Brussels to be implemented from January 1.

Ambassadors had unanimously agreed to “green light” the settlement announced on Christmas Eve, a spokesman for the German EU presidency confirmed.

The spokesman said: “EU ambassadors have unanimously approved the provisional application of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement as of January 1, 2021.”

This latest development now clears the way for a deal which allows for the continued tariff-free trade with the EU single market to come into effect when the Brexit transition period comes to an end on Thursday.

MPs in Westminster are also now preparing to vote on the deal in a special sitting of Parliament called for Wednesday.

Ministers are now also warning individuals and businesses to prepare for the new proceedures that will apply from January 1.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who has been in charge of no-deal preparations, warned time is “very short” and admitted there are likely to be some “bumpy moments” as the new arrangements came into effect.

He said: “I think lots of businesses are ready, particularly the larger businesses, some smaller businesses will still want to do a bit more in order to be ready,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“We are there to help them and the advice that we’re giving, and also the money that we’ve invested in making sure that people can be ready for customs procedures, is designed to help.

“I’m sure there will be bumpy moments but we are there in order to try to do everything we can to smooth the path.”

Mr Gove also attempted to calm growing anger from UK fishermen that Mr Johnson had failed to deliver on the promises made in the Brexit referendum campaign more than four years ago.

The trade deal agreed states a quarter of EU boats’ fishing rights in UK waters will be transferred to the UK fishing fleet over a transition period spanning five-and-a-half years.

The Cabinet Office minister told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “I think it is fair to say that we are in a stronger position than we were in the EU and in the common fisheries policy.

“In the common fisheries policy we were only able to access about 50% of the fish in our waters.

“It is the case that we are now getting a significant uptick in that number, so we will have by 2026 about two-thirds of the fish in our waters.”