Happy new year!
I was, of course, very relieved that the UK and EU managed to fulfil their commitment on our departure last January, to conclude a trade deal by the end of 2020. Both sides deserve congratulations for successfully negotiating an agreement to govern £600 billion worth of trade each year. We are each other's largest trading partner, and it speaks well of the leadership on both sides of the Channel that they could put the rancour of separation behind them, and conclude a deal in both their people's interests.
I have had a large number of emails over the last year asserting that Boris Johnson was aiming at a 'hard' or 'no-deal' Brexit. It is true that, contrary to the apocalyptic fears of some, the PM was prepared to consider leaving the transition period on WTO (winningly called 'Australian') terms. But he always wanted a deal, and I hope that his signature on Christmas Eve causes those correspondents to reconsider their view of the PM. He is not a natural rebel or wrecker; his instinct is to conciliate and make friends; but I am glad to say he knew that without asserting the absolute imperative of restoring the sovereignty of the UK - to be out of the legal and regulatory orbit of the EU - he would divide the country more bitterly, and induce a longer economic and political crisis, than the temporary inconveniences of leaving without a deal. In the end, thankfully, we will never know how bad those inconveniences would have been.
To get a deal the Government had to swallow two bitter pills. The first is that we do not get immediate rights to all the fish in UK waters. I am sorry for this but pleased that the Government has committed £100 million to help the fishing industry prepare for the larger share of our fish stocks we can immediately claim, and the full rights we will get in five years' time. The second, more painful pill is the continued ambiguity over Northern Ireland. Much must be done to maintain the sense and the reality of the six counties' membership of the UK. As many have said, the battle for Brexit is over - the battle for the Union has now begun.
For businesses concerned about trade with the EU, the Government has produced information here which may be helpful.