I don't like the Brexit trade agreement - but it's far better than no deal

Boris Johnson in Downing Street

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks to President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen via video link from the Cabinet room after completing the Brexit deal. - Credit: Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street

Anyone who has read this column regularly over the last four years will know I'm no fan of Brexit.

I felt, and still feel, that the Leave campaign was "organised" by a rag-tag bunch of chancers whose arguments ranged from the dubious to the dishonest and were sprinkled, by some, with a strong dose of xenophobia and racism.

However, I am a democrat, and despite all those caveats above I have to accept that the majority of Britons who took part in the referendum in 2016 voted for the UK to leave the EU.

It was not a result I welcomed. If there were another referendum I would vote Remain again. But the fact is that the Leave campaign won more votes than the Remainers.

However, I never believed that there was a majority of people who wanted a "No Deal" Brexit - not even when Nigel Farage was touring the country telling anyone who would listen that that was the case. In fact, at the time opinion polls all showed only about 20% of people wanted us to leave without a deal.

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So I am pleased that the government has negotiated a deal and that by the time this is published it seems certain to have been agreed by MPs.

I don't like the deal. From an economic, and social, point of view I do not believe that any deal will be as good as the one that runs out at midnight tonight - with Britain enjoying all the benefits of our previous membership of the EU, with the customs union and single market.

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But I accept that is not possible, given the result of the referendum, and the deal we have got is much better than a no deal scenario. There will be much more red tape for importers and exporters dealing with the EU and serious problems for London-based financial companies who find themselves outside the single market.

Travel to the EU on holiday will be more problematic - and more expensive with the need to take out health and travel insurance. But that is what we voted for.

What has been interesting over the Christmas period, since the deal was struck, is listening to MPs discussing it. Clearly some of the hardline members of the European Reform Group are not happy because they think too much has been given away on the sovereignty issue.

However, that is not a view shared by all members of the group - and most took the same view as Ipswich MP Tom Hunt that while this deal may not be perfect, it is good enough at a time when most constituents have heard enough about Europe and want to move on.

I really cannot understand the logic of the arch-remainer MPs who opposed the deal. I understand they feel this deal is far from perfect and, like me, they would like the retain all the current privileges of membership.

However, that is not an option. If the deal had been rejected, we would not have carried on as full members of the EU. We have left the organisation. The transition period ends at midnight. If the deal was not in place the UK would cease to have any deal with EU.

It would have been the ultimate case of cutting off your nose to spite your face!

And I'm afraid I don't have too much patience with the complaints from the fishing industry about EU vessels still being allowed into UK waters.

The fact is that the UK fishing industry relies on EU markets for much of its catch. There simply isn't the demand in the UK for fish like herring, blue whiting and sand eels. 

And two thirds of the most popular fish we do eat - cod and haddock - will continue to be imported from fishing grounds in the north Atlantic, off Iceland, which is not in the EU anyway! 

For an industry which contributes somewhere between 0.5% and 0.05% of the total UK GDP (depending on whether you include the processing of imported fish)  to hold the entire economy to ransom seems ridiculous.

I am also reminded, whenever I hear about the importance of the industry, of an interview I did as a young reporter about 30 years ago with a 40ish seaman from Lowestoft who switched from being a trawler skipper to operating a service vessel for the gas industry.

When I asked how he felt about leaving the traditional industry, he and his friends were delighted to move to a much safer, well-paid, and reliable industry.

He told me most of the people lamenting the end of the fishing industry had never been out to sea on a trawler facing incredible dangers and no guaranteed income.

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