Jacob Rees-Mogg is Leader of the House of Commons, and is MP for North East Somerset.
The real surprise and significance of the Free Trade Agreement with the European Union is its normality. It is not in itself the reclamation of sovereignty, which happened in January but the expression of that reclamation. That is why Parliament is being recalled, for although the agreement is satisfactorily comprehensive, it is the type of deal this country could do with other sovereign nations or trading partnerships.
This has been achieved because of the negotiating panache of David Frost and Oliver Lewis, who matched Michel Barnier for capability. Many eurosceptics have a striking admiration for Barnier, who epitomises Gallic sophistication, and who had successfully outfoxed previous British negotiators. Regardless of their abilities, they could not have achieved the right outcome without the backbone of the Prime Minister, making it clear throughout that he would walk away from a bad deal.
The United Kingdom Internal Market Act emphasised this point. The British were reclaiming their sovereignty, and were not interested in the typical type of international fudge that could have potentially overturned the voters’ decision. For in truth that is where the real strength and courage lay, in 2015 by voting for a referendum, in 2016 by voting to leave, in 2017 by trusting the vacuous promises of both parties that Brexit meant Brexit, and by the resounding result in 2019, the electorate ignored all the doom-mongering to demand, request and require its right. As of Churchill, so perhaps of Johnson: “it was the nation …that had the lion’s heart …I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.”
Thus, this Agreement reflects what the British people repeatedly voted for” a zero tariff, zero quota, free trading agreement with the EU, outside its legal control, unbound from the EU’s treaties and courts. The Prime Minister always said a Canada-style agreement best reflected his ambitions, and this is what he has achieved.
The normality of this deal should not overshadow its landmark status. It is the largest free trade agreement that either the UK or the EU have agreed, and the first ever zero-tariff, zero-quota trade deal that the EU has signed. As with mercy, free trade “blesseth him that give it and him that takes.” For all the talk about punishment, ratchet clauses and defensive interests, this truth guided the Prime Minister and it is embedded in this agreement.
Just like any other free trade agreement, this deal is made up of a number of reciprocal agreements, overseen independently, as a piece of international, rather than European, law. Provisions such as non-regression clauses exist in such agreements across the world. It would be irregular for such a deal where each party did not agree to act in good faith in this way. Far from leaving us in a state of vassalage, this agreement is a great opportunity for regulatory competition, from which Britons and Europeans will benefit.
This is the relationship that the United Kingdom always wanted with Europe. One of understanding and close cooperation, but one in which the United Kingdom is free to follow its own path. The last few decades showed that it was impossible to do so from within the confines of the EU. Now there is a treaty that the British people welcome: not an unaccountable and opaque European Directive, but a foundational agreement that is accountable to Parliament.
From 1st January, the nation’s laws will be made here, in Parliament and interpreted by British courts. They will be free from the oversight of the European Court of Justice, which will have no role to play in either British affairs, nor relationships with the EU and its member states. At the beginning of the year, the EU insisted that European law and the ECJ would apply to our future relationship. This was intolerable. It would have tied the United Kingdom into the EU’s orbit in perpetuity, Le Goulet on steroids.
It restores the opportunity to embrace the opportunities of the open seas, and it is a national responsibility to ensure these opportunities are realised by future generations. With the newly-established Turing Scheme, British students will be able to be in the vanguard of a renewed economic and cultural exploration of the world.
This Agreement opens a great potential future for Britain. It is now in our own hands to forge our own destiny, free to pursue British interests and prosperity in our own way and to build a lasting entente-cordiale with our European friends. This will be far more beneficial for Britain and Europe alike than our increasingly tetchy relationship within the Union.
Along with this opportunity comes accountability; there are no European Directives to hide behind anymore. This is a process which will change Britain for the better, but our responsibilities to the public are greater than ever before. It is up to Parliament and the Government to ensure the fruits of sovereignty are prosperity and liberty to the British people.