The 27 members of the EU are expected to approve the post-Brexit trade deal with the UK within days after a Christmas Day briefing of ambassadors by Michel Barnier, the bloc’s chief negotiator.
Experts across Europe, from Berlin to Paris and Rome, will now pore over the 1,246-page text, although much of it is well known in the capitals and there is little doubt that the agreement will be signed off.
Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen, the European commission leader, were able to announce completion of the nine months of trade and security negotiations on Christmas Eve after the two teams led by Barnier and his UK counterpart, David Frost, had agreed terms at 1.44pm UK time.
Ambassadors representing the 27 member states in Brussels nibbled on chocolates and at least one wore a Father Christmas bobble hat as they met to start the process that will lead to the deal being put into force on 1 January.
The European parliament has declined to hold a vote of consent this year due to the lack of time for scrutiny. The UK will leave the EU’s single market and customs union in six days.
The deal will instead be “provisionally applied” at the end of the year by the EU in order to avoid a no-deal outcome, with MEPs voting later in January. The House of Commons will be recalled and hold a vote on the new treaty on 30 December.
An EU diplomat said: “EU ambassadors praised Michel Barnier and the EU negotiation team for their resilience and steadfastness under intense pressure during the Brexit negotiations with the UK.
“Ambassadors also thanked Michel Barnier and his team for the extraordinary cooperation and transparency during the negotiations which has greatly helped to ensure EU unity.”
The diplomat said the member states “will now start a preliminary review of the draft texts of the different Brexit agreements”.
“This exercise will take a few days as the core agreement on EU trade and cooperation already comprises 1,246 pages of legal text,” the diplomat said. “EU ambassadors unanimously endorsed a letter to the European parliament on the intention of EU member states to take a decision on the provisional application of the EU-UK agreement in the coming days.
“The letter lays out the necessity of this exceptional step in order to prevent a significant disruption in EU-UK relations with severe consequences for citizens and businesses at the end of the transition period on the 1st of January.
“The provisional application would also allow for proper and full democratic scrutiny of the draft agreement by the European parliament and the council of member states before its final ratification. This decision on the provisional application will be put to a vote in the council in the following days.”
In the UK, Eurosceptic backbenchers are awaiting the verdict of a “star chamber” of experts convened by the European Research Group to go through the agreement line by line. It is expected to publish its conclusions on Monday. There is, however, no expectation that the deal will be rejected.
Michael Gove meanwhile presented the trade agreement as a new start that would allow the UK and the EU develop a “special relationship … between sovereign equals”. Writing in the Times, the cabinet secretary hoped it would end the “rancorous and, at times, ugly politics” of the period since the Brexit referendum.
The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has told his MPs that they should vote for the deal. A rebellion on Wednesday’s vote is certain, with a number of shadow ministers likely to quit rather than vote in favour.
At a press conference on Christmas Eve, Starmer said: “At a moment of such national significance, it is just not credible for Labour to be on the sidelines.”