EU ambassadors have given provisional approval for Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal to be implemented from January 1.
A spokesman for the German EU presidency said the ambassadors had unanimously agreed to “green light” the settlement hammered out on Christmas Eve.
The move paves the way for the agreement which allows for the continued tariff-free trade with the EU single market to take effect when the current Brexit transition period expires on Thursday.
“EU ambassadors have unanimously approved the provisional application of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement as of January 1, 2021,” the spokesman for the German presidency said.
It comes as MPs in Britain prepare to vote on the deal in a special sitting of Parliament called for Wednesday.
It is likely to pass through both Houses, with Labour ordering its MPs to vote for the “thin” treaty because the only other option is a chaotic departure without a trade deal.
The European Parliament must also formally ratify the deal in the New Year – although this will now apply retrospectively.
The agreement came as ministers stepped up calls for businesses and individuals to prepare for the new procedures that will apply in just four days’ time, regardless of the agreement.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove warned time was “very short” as he acknowledged there were likely to be some “bumpy moments” as the new arrangements came into effect.
He said firms needed to be ready for new customs, while he urged UK citizens to take out comprehensive travel insurance to cover health costs and to check their mobile roaming policies to avoid charges if they were travelling to the EU.
“I think lots of businesses are ready, particularly the larger businesses, some smaller businesses will still want to do a bit more in order to be ready,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“We are there to help them and the advice that we’re giving, and also the money that we’ve invested in making sure that people can be ready for customs procedures, is designed to help.
“I’m sure there will be bumpy moments but we are there in order to try to do everything we can to smooth the path.”
Gove rejected increasingly angry claims from Britain’s fishermen that Boris Johnson had failed to deliver on his promises made in the referendum campaign.
Under the terms of the agreement, 25% of EU boats’ fishing rights in UK waters will be transferred to the UK fishing fleet, over a five-and-half year transition period.
“I think it is fair to say that we are in a stronger position than we were in the EU and in the common fisheries policy,” Gove told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“In the common fisheries policy we were only able to access about 50% of the fish in our waters. It is the case that we are now getting a significant uptick in that number, so we will have by 2026 about two-thirds of the fish in our waters.”
However, Andrew Locker, chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, said they would be “absolutely worse off” as a result of the deal.
“I am angry, disappointed and betrayed. Boris Johnson promised us the rights to all the fish that swim in our exclusive economic zone and we have got a fraction of that,” he said.
“We are absolutely worse off. When we were within the EU we used to trade fish with the EU. We used to swap things we didn’t use with fish that they didn’t use and that enabled us to put together an annual fishing plan.
“What we have got now is a fraction of what we were promised through Brexit. We are going to really, really struggle this year.”