Brexit deal is 'enormously unifying' says UK finance minister

Rishi Sunak says agreement with the EU allows the country to 'put the divisions of the past behind us'

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak looks on as he leaves following an outside broadcast interview, in London, Britain, November 26, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo
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The UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said the trade deal reached with the European Union should reassure people worried about the economic damage of Brexit and can be an “enormously unifying moment for our country.”

London will continue discussions with Brussels over access and equivalence for financial services, the chancellor said on Sunday after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the agreement did not go as far as he wants for the sector.

The deal, which will be voted on by politicians in Parliament on Wednesday, “gives us a strong platform to look forward optimistically and put the divisions of the past behind us,” Mr Sunak said. “For those who were anxious about the economic implications of leaving, they should be enormously reassured by the comprehensive nature of this free trade agreement.”

Mr Johnson conceded in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph that the agreement "perhaps does not go as far as we would like" on financial services, though said it offers "access for solicitors, barristers" and a "good deal for digital".

There is little clarity for financial firms and no decision on so-called equivalence, which would allow firms to sell their services into the single market from the City of London. The agreement only features standard provisions on financial services, meaning it doesn’t include commitments on market access.

Mr Sunak said it gives a “stable regulatory co-operative framework” and “we will remain in close dialogue with our European partners when it comes to things like equivalence decisions”.

Anneliese Dodds, economy spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, said ministers should do everything possible to provide certainty for businesses.

“There are big areas, like financial services, where we need to see the Conservative government acting in a much more concerted way to get an agreement so we can ensure we keep jobs in our country,” she told Sky News. “They really need to focus on this far more.”

There was also a warning for Mr Johnson’s government from across the Irish Sea, where deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar said any reduction of standards in the UK could lead to reduced access to the EU market.

“They have agreed to a non-regression clause in all but name, so we said you can only have access to the market if you don’t reduce your standards when it comes to workers’ rights, the environment, health and safety, product standards, all of those things,” Mr Varadkar told Newstalk radio.

“If they do reduce their standards, or if they don’t keep up with our standards, then that access to our market could be threatened,” he said. “So they do still have to largely follow European rules where they’re relevant.”

Some senior politicians from Mr Johnson’s Conservative Party complained there will not be enough time to properly scrutinise the deal when Parliament debates and votes on it on Wednesday.

While the legislation is expected to pass easily as Labour has indicated it will back the deal rather than risk the economic damage of a no-deal divorce from the EU, dissent among Johnson’s rank-and-file politicians may spell trouble for the future.

"Whatever you think of this treaty, it is going to affect the rest of our lives," former Brexit Secretary David Davis told The Observer. "It does require more than just a rubber stamp."