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Historic Brexit deal edges closer to agreement offering 'hope' to business

By Scott Maclennan

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All eyes are on Downing Street with an announcement expected.
All eyes are on Downing Street with an announcement expected.

News that a historic trade agreement is close to being reached between the UK and the European Union offers a “glimmer of hope” for businesses, according to Scotland’s Finance Secretary Kate Forbes.

She was adamant that whatever is agreed by Number 10 and Brussels it is no replacement for membership of the EU amid fears rural Scotland will pay a price of concluding an agreement.

But Highland MSP Edward Mountain – himself a farmer – was upbeat about the prospect of trade agreement but said he would need to see the detail before commenting further.

Agreeing a deal will be seen as a major boost for business amid an ongoing international economic crisis as it means that both sides will be able to avoid highly damaging tariffs on goods after the end of the transition period on December 31.

It is believed that a series of talks between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen helped get the deal over the line.

Mr Johnson had come in for criticism in recent days, including from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, for not extending the transition period and risking a no-deal outcome.

The ongoing severe delays to freight leaving the UK for Europe after France suspended access amid concerns about a new strain of Covid gave a hint of how things may have been without a trade deal.

Several details of the deal emerged showing that some Scottish farmers could be badly affected because seed potatoes are banned for export to the EU as well as Northern Ireland.

A huge proportion of the seed potatoes produced in Scotland are exported and the ban was described by rural economy secretary and Inverness and Nairn MSP Fergus Ewing as “disastrous for our world leading industry.”

However, it has also been claimed that exports will be protected by a continuity trade deal with Egypt.

It was previously reported that an announcement would be made early this morning but seasoned Brexit-watchers doubted this would actually happen.

Ms Forbes said: “This is a glimmer of hope for businesses that have been anxiously waiting not just for weeks but for years. The question now will be whether businesses have time to prepare and whether there are any unpleasant surprises.

“The detail is still to be fully published, and inevitably in any deal there will be compromises. The fear all along has been that rural Scotland, including agriculture and fishing, will be sacrificed for a deal.

“Already, one of Scotland’s most significant exports, seed potatoes, looks like it has been dealt a heavy blow. This will devastate parts of the farming sector. Seed potatoes are arguably one of rural Scotland’s most important exports.

“Ultimately, this deal is no substitute for the deal we already had – a full member of the EU with opt-out benefits.

“Brexit has been handled abysmally, and irrespective of whether somebody voted leave or remain I think we can all agree that the UK government’s approach to negotiations has been embarrassing and confused, putting our economy and legal protections at risk whilst they fought an internal Conservative civil war.”

Mr Mountain said: “The reports that a deal has been reached between the UK and the EU are welcome news.

“Time will be needed to understand all the components of the agreementand to consider the whole text, without this any comment would beunhelpful and uninformed politics.”

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