BUSINESSES in the North-East have days to get to grips with new trade rules with the European Union after the Brexit transition period ends.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the deal will help protect jobs and provide certainty to businesses when the UK is no longer part of the single market on January 1.

The deal – which was agreed on Christmas Eve and is worth £668 billion a year – was welcomed by people across the political divide. 

But many businesses remain “nervous” about the future, said James Ramsbotham, chief executive to the North-East Chamber of Commerce.

He said: “The last four and a half years have been a nightmare of uncertainty for so many of our North-East businesses. While we welcome this step towards establishing a new relationship with the EU it is important to remember this is not the end, but the beginning.  

“Businesses still have no clarity on a wide range of important trading issues at a time when their attention is also focused on the increasing challenges arising from Covid. 

“We have had two years to plan a seamless transition but now just days to adapt to the most significant changes in our trading relationship with the EU in over 40 years.  This deal leaves businesses with precious little time to adjust.

“Many companies also remain nervous about how to maximise their potential when trading with the EU going forward.  This is of particular importance to our region with Europe being our largest marketplace.”

He said temporary measures, exemptions and support was needed to minimise disruption.

On Thursday, Mr Johnson said the UK had managed to “take back control” as promised in the. 2016 Brexit referendum.

He said: “We have taken back control of our laws and our destiny. We have taken back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation in a way that is complete and unfettered. From January 1 we are outside the customs union and outside the single market.”

“British laws will be made solely by the British Parliament interpreted by British judges sitting in UK courts and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will come to an end.”

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said: “It is fair, it is a balanced deal, and it is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides.”

Details of the draft treaty and associated text – which stretches to 1,246 pages – are still emerging. 

Yesterday, ambassadors from the 27 EU members were briefed on the contents of the deal.

MPs will vote on it on Wednesday. Opposition leader Keir Starmer described it as "thin" but said Labour would vote for the deal to avoid a no-deal Brexit. 

The deal means trade can continue tariff-free, though will mean more paper work and checks for businesses.

Describing the deal as “historic”, Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “While we await the detail of the deal agreed between the UK and the EU, it looks like the Prime Minister has secured unprecedented access to European markets that will allow the UK to continue to trade freely with the EU, while delivering on the referendum pledge to regain control of our money, our laws and our borders. 

“The UK can now look outwards once again as a truly global trading nation, freed from the shackles of the EU’s inward looking, anti-free trade policies.”

Saying he was “mightily relieved”, Andy McDonald, MP  for Middlesbrough, said: “There is an enormous sense of relief that the negotiations have concluded but many will feel a sense of sadness and loss. This has been an extremely difficult journey for the UK and for the EU. 

“Public opinion, families and communities have been bitterly divided over Brexit, but that is behind us now and there is now an opportunity for us to unite and move forward together to forge a better and fairer country. 

“The North-East exports more to the EU than any other region, so continuing to have no tariffs on goods and materials coming in and no tariffs on our manufactured goods and materials going out after 31st December, was absolutely critical for hundreds of thousands of jobs in our part of the world. That has always been my very great worry so, like all our vital industries and businesses, I am mightily relieved that we will continue to trade tariff free. "

“There will of course be other massive challenges in adapting to the new environment and the new relationship with our European friends and largest trading partner, but we now have to get on and make the best possible job of our post EU future.” 

Darlington MP Peter Gibson said: “I’m utterly delighted. Boris has once again confounded the critics who said it couldn’t be done.

“It’s fantastic that in the same year we got Brexit done, we have got a deal done and what a fantastic Christmas present for the people of Darlington to be out of Europe with a free trade deal.”