Brexit small print shows Boris Johnson’s ‘triumphant’ deal is full of holes

Boris Johnson’s triumphant Brexit deal turned out to be full of holes as details of the small print emerged.

An “independent” Britain will still face punitive sanctions from Brussels if it steps out of line on managing its own economy.

And businesses trading with Europe are left facing costly extra red tape, customs checks and new formalities.

The Prime Minister boasted his £668billion Christmas Eve deal “takes back control” of our laws, borders and fisheries – with no tariffs or quotas on exports to the EU.

He promised a “new relationship”, free of European single market rules on trade and with no political control from Brussels.

But when the 1,246-page document was released, it revealed the UK will have to toe the Brussels line or face penalties on businesses and exporters.

Marley Morris, of the IPPR think tank, said: “We can expect slower recovery from the coronavirus recession and higher prices in the shops.”

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson has praised the mammoth trade deal – but the devil is in the detail

Mr Johnson’s claim that he had “got Brexit done” was also exposed as a sham – when the documents revealed that the entire deal could be up for renegotiation in four years.

The PM was accused by fishermen of “losing his bottle” in negotiations and “sacrificing” the UK fishing industry because it accounts for just 0.1 per cent of the economy.

Announcing the deal after almost 11 months of wrangling the PM said: “We have taken back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation. In a way that is complete and unfettered.”

He admitted that “the devil is in the detail” but insisted: “I am sure this can survive the most ruthless scrutiny”.

In fact, if a future government tries to diverge “significantly” from EU standards on state aid to industry, it could be hauled before Partnership Councils of judges and trade experts.

Disputes could include any relaxing of employment rights or environmental standards and, if not settled, would be likely to see import tariffs imposed on any UK business deemed to have been given a competitive edge.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

That threat comes on top of increased bureaucracy and paperwork now facing all trade across the Channel – expected to add four per cent to firms’ administration costs.

Britain had argued for trade to be as “frictionless” as possible, but the deal means significant non-tariff barriers. Traders are busy working out the likely costs, amid fears jobs will be lost.

The Partnership Councils will be permanently on watch, requiring a mirroring of the current bureaucracy for ministers and officials to keep in constant contact with Brussels.

A spokesman for No10 said: “All trade dispute mechanisms are fully reciprocal. They cannot be used simply because one side does not like something the other side has done.”

Another major win claimed by Mr Johnson was in freeing the UK from the European Court of Justice.

The court is seen by lawyers as the last resort in holding the Government to account on human rights abuses.

But under the deal a new body will be created which allows anybody to “lodge complaints” about the way they feel treated by the Government.

Johnson has been touting the deal as a ‘success’ but now the scrutiny begins

The Independent Monitoring Authority will have no authority over the British courts but will tie up officials and lawyers in expensive cases.

Clement Beaune, France’s Minister for European Affairs, claimed the deal means there is “no country in the world that will be subject to as many export rules to us as the UK.”

The end of free movement of financial services – worth £126bn to the British economy – means City firms will have to comply with varying rules across different EU states. Banks must wait up to six months before they know whether they will be able to sell services to EU firms.

Many are now braced for job losses – with uncertainty over the fallout lasting into the New Year.

Details of the deal are being scrutinised by a “star chamber” of lawyers set up by the hardline Tory European Research Group of MPs, whose members are threatening a rebellion when the Commons debates the agreement on Wednesday.

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis said the PM’s move to allow the Commons and the Lords just one day to debate it is “clearly not enough”.

He warned that the detail required close attention because “the EU has a habit of inserting little quirks”.

Labour leader Keir Starmer faces his own revolt from Remain MPs, and threats of frontbench resignations over his demand they support what he called a “thin” deal – but which he insisted was better than no deal.

He aims to persuade them it has so many holes that a Labour government could use it to improve rights at work and laws on climate change.



What we wanted: The key watchword of the deal for Boris Johnson and his Brexit hardliners. They claim the point of Brexit was taking control of our laws and borders.

What we got: No10 says the deal “fully delivers” on the referendum result.

What it means: PM can fairly claim a win, but the symbolism matters most. The text of the deal (in documents released so far) does not mention it. And EU chief Ursula von der Leyen pointedly questioned “what sovereignty means in the 21st century”.


What we wanted: Continued free treatment for Brit travellers entering EU countries and Europeans travelling here.

The EU was keen to make this work but insisted guarantees under the European Health Insurance Card would expire.

What we got: The EU agreed that healthcare provisions similar to the EHIC will continue for British citizens in EU states for the period of their visit.

What it means: Further detail on the practicalities is expected from Whitehall.


What we wanted: Exit from the rule of the European Court of Justice, which had the final say on cases such as human rights,company disputes, and product standards.

What we got: No role for the ECG, except in Northern Ireland, where questions remain over details of custom controls.

What it means: Courts can no longer refer cases to the ECJ for a ruling. Brexiteers claimed it had been used to flout domestic laws on disputes over asylum, employment and sometimes criminal cases


What we wanted: To maintain access to intelligence, and the European Arrest Warrant. The EU said this was not option.

What we got: Continued sharing of data and forensic material, but with limitations which will become clear in practice. The EU tied co-operation to adherence to the Convention on Human Rights, which the Government wants to abandon in the UK.

What it means: Doubts over effectiveness of co-operation to trace crooks and sharing of intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks.


What we wanted: Ability to set industrial rules and levels of state aid. The EU wanted rules “dynamically aligned” to stop the UK

being able to gain an edge by slashing workers’ rights and green standards.

What we got: UK will not have to match any EU changes. An independent panel will settle any disputes over trade “distortions”.

What it means: Unions fear worse conditions for workers. Downing Street says it will usher in a “modern subsidy system” to give better support to business


What we wanted: Exit from Erasmus which helps uni students study in EU countries. Last year 54,600 participated, with monthly grants of up to £320. Mr Johnson said the scheme was “too expensive”. EU negotiator Michel Barnier said Britain leaving it was one of his biggest regrets.

What we got: The UK is out of the student exchange scheme from January 2021.

What it means: PM promised a new global replacement, named after Enigma code-breaker Alan Turing. It could cost £100m.


What we wanted: The final stumbling block accounts for just 0.1 per cent of the economy – or £1.4bn – employing 24,000 people. But it was politically charged.

The UK wanted to take back 80 per cent of the stocks where EU currently have access. The EU wanted to give back 18 per cent over first 14, then 10 years.

It’s not all over

How the deal works in practice will be overseen by a new Partnership Council which will “supervise the operation of the agreement at a political level”.

This means UK ministers and officials will be in ongoing talks with Brussels.

If things don’t go well – eg if Brussels accuses Britain of undercutting EU countries – the deal can be reviewed after four years.

 In a worst-case scenario either side could then withdraw, No10 says, sending us back to square one.