The Brexit trade deal with the EU was an “enormous political triumph” for Boris Johnson, according to a political advisor to the Business Travel Association (BTA).
Thomas Woolhouse of Cavendish Advocacy, which lobbies on behalf of the BTA, noted the UK’s relations with Europe “brought down four Conservative prime ministers”.
Yet he said: “The deal was passed almost unanimously by Conservative Party MPs while at the same time Labour was voting in three different directions.”
He told an Elman Wall Covid-19 webinar: “It’s an enormous political triumph for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Freedom of movement has come to an end. The jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice has come to an end.
“The deal should not be sneered at. It was negotiated in 10 months – nothing quite like it has been achieved before.”
Woolhouse added: “It is the only trade deal that increases trade friction rather than reduces it, which gives a sense of how extraordinary all this is.”
The agreement when it came on Christmas Eve was almost an anti-climax. Woolhouse pointed out: “After four-and-a-half years, Brexit wasn’t even front page news.”
He told the webinar: “For a long time we were hearing they were on the verge of a breakthrough.”
The major sticking points, fishing quotas and a ‘level playing field’, were “hugely symbolic”, he said, arguing: “They were haggling over a drop in the ocean compared with the wider picture, and neither side was especially happy [with the outcome].”
However, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement deals almost solely with trade in goods.
Woolhouse said: “It is very thin on services. That doesn’t mean that is all it will be – negotiations will continue for months or years on a sector-by-sector basis and on granular detail.
“The fallout will be felt in the months and years ahead.”
Abta head of financial services John de Vial agreed: “It’s good there was a Brexit agreement, but services are not covered.”
He noted: “The position on ground transport is probably better than we feared. There is some possibility of progress on the [lack of a replacement for the] Posted Workers Directive. But there is a lot of work to be done.”
Woolhouse noted: “For travel, aviation was covered and UK airlines can still lease aircraft and crew between the EU and UK.
“The UK is now a ‘third country’ and travellers have to comply with new rules. There will be changes for business activity.” For example, he said: “Visas may be required for intra-corporate transfers.”