The post-Brexit trade deal between the EU and UK could be a “golden opportunity” for our fishing industry, a Northern Ireland MP has said.
t comes as the 27 European Union states look set to formally back the agreement within days.
Ambassadors from the member states were being briefed on the contents of the deal yesterday by Michel Barnier, who led Brussels’ negotiating team in the talks with the UK.
They have written to the European Parliament to say they intend to take a decision on the preliminary application of the deal within days.
The timing of the deal has forced politicians and officials in the UK and Brussels to tear up Christmas plans.
MPs and peers will be called back to Westminster on Wednesday to vote on the deal, but MEPs are not expected to approve it until the new year, meaning it will have to apply provisionally until they give it the green light.
In Northern Ireland, the Executive will meet on Monday to discuss the deal.
First Minister Arlene Foster said it marked “the start of a new era in the relationship between the UK and the EU and in Northern Ireland we will want to maximise the opportunities the new arrangements provide for our local economy”.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill noted that her party opposed Brexit, but said it was in “no-one’s interests to leave without a deal”.
The DUP will meet on Monday to assess the deal and confirm the stance its eight MPs will take in the Commons vote.
Yesterday its Strangford MP Jim Shannon said the agreement could enable the rebuilding of Northern Ireland’s hard hit sea fishing industry, despite scepticism from UK fishing leaders, who claimed PM Boris Johnson had sacrificed the industry to secure a trade agreement.
“It’s a golden opportunity to create jobs in the fisheries sector, and for something good to come out of this deal,” Mr Shannon said.
“I’m glad there’s a deal – but at the same time I am waiting to see the small print. The devil is in the detail.”
He said it was crucial that the Prime Minister’s commitment to the fishing sector was delivered.
Fellow DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said: “Whilst we welcome in principle that there has been a deal between the UK Government and the EU, we will take time to study the detail of this Free Trade Agreement and in particular how it mitigates the Northern Ireland Protocol and our ability to have unfettered access to the UK Internal Market.”
The draft treaty and associated Brexit agreements stretch to 1,246 pages of complex legal text.
Officials in Brussels and the capitals of EU states have started to scrutinise the texts.
The EU’s Brexit experts on the UK working group will meet daily in Brussels to clarify all aspects of the deal.
Mr Johnson hailed the deal as a “new beginning” for Britain that resolves the European question that has “bedevilled” British politics for generations.
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer branded the accord “thin” – although his party will back it in next week’s Commons vote because the alternative would be a “devastating” no-deal scenario.
Late haggling meant the deal was not concluded until Christmas Eve, days before current trading arrangements expire at the end of December.
Former EU Commissioner Phil Hogan believes the UK Government was left embarrassed by its failure to identify what it truly wanted from Brexit trade negotiations.
Mr Hogan said he had no doubt that a late deal would be struck to avoid a calamity crash-out on December 31.
However, he warned that future London governments must “move beyond vague notions of sovereignty” if the UK is to forge a worthwhile long-term relationship with Europe.
“It was quite extraordinary, even late on in these talks, how poorly the UK had thought out what they wanted from the negotiations,” he said.
In Northern Ireland, opinion remained divided, with Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken saying there is “no cause for celebration”.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the deal “will not undo the enormous damage caused by Brexit”.
Alliance Party MP Stephen Farry said that his party will study the deal over the coming days.