How Boris Johnson happily ordered Brexit negotiator David Frost to sign the Christmas Eve deal

The Prime Minister was clearly nervous and downright nervous and was pacing up and down his study on Downing Street when the cell phone in his suit pocket began to vibrate.

"It's Frosty," he yelled at the handful of officers who had gathered in his office.

On Christmas Eve it was 2.15 p.m. and it was the turn of the newly ennobled David Frost, the EU's chief negotiator in Great Britain.

More than 25 hours had passed since a historic trade deal with Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, was "in principle" concluded. And then the wait went on … and on … and on …

The dream of a deal before Christmas quickly went back and no deal was still a possibility.

But now a big grin spread over Boris & # 39; face. Whatever Frost said, the Prime Minister liked it. "Do the deal, Frosty," he said quietly.

Barely able to suppress his euphoria, he ordered von der Leyen, who was flanked by Frost and Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, to set up a zoom call in the cabinet room.

Who ordered anchovies? On Wednesday, pizzas will arrive at the Berlaymont building in Brussels as the conversation drifts through the evening

In London there were some of the people who had worked around the clock, except for Boris' Chief of Staff Sir Eddie Lister, his chief private secretary Martin Reynolds and James Slack, communications manager.

When the EC President confirmed that the deal had been signed, there was applause in the cabinet room.

"It was an extremely emotional moment," said a source close to the UK negotiating team.

Boris returned to his office to add the finishing touches to his press conference, which he presented in a herringbone shirt and carefully selected tie with a delicate fish motif.

On his desk, next to the 1,500 pages of the contract text, was a strategically placed can of pale ale made by the longest established brewery in north-east England – Camerons.

The nightly pizzas (pictured) that helped seal Brussels on Christmas Eve

The nightly pizzas (pictured) that helped seal Brussels on Christmas Eve

"It was a clear reference to the Red Wall seats, which Boris won in the elections by promising to end Brexit," said a senior Tory.

But some wags suggested that it was in fact an excavation by former Prime Minister David Cameron that made an in / out referendum a reality.

Whatever the truth, a year after the landslide in Mr Johnson's general election, this trade deal – the blueprint for trade between Britain and the EU after the break of ties since joining the common market in 1973 – was real a milestone in the last four years of the Brexit drama.

Failure to agree terms could have led the UK and the EU to a bitter stalemate, with disastrous economic consequences for both.

While much of the talks revolved around state aid issues and disputes over resolution mechanisms, the politically charged but economically marginal problem of fish nearly sank them. The fishery and shellfish trade is a tiny 0.1 percent of UK GDP, but it has become an issue of totemic concern in coastal towns and villages on both sides of the Canal.

Much of the loan rightly goes to Lord Frost, 55 – Boris calls him "The Great Frost" – and his team.

Unlike his predecessor, Olly Robbins, Frost, a passionate Europhilist and favorite of then Prime Minister Theresa May, who passionately believed Brexit was a mistake, was a leaver through and through. As a former professional diplomat, while working in Brussels in the early 1990s, he became a stubborn Eurosceptic, appalled by the excesses of the Eurocracy. He resigned from the Foreign Office in 2013, but was courted by Boris – as a former Brussels correspondent, Boris Frost knew from earlier – when he became Foreign Minister in 2016.

During the final panel discussion, Frost, an Oxford scholar of Medieval French whose team wore Union Flag branded lanyards, was named & # 39; Frosty & # 39; more than fair.

Win on pints: beer

Win on pints: beer

It not only described his negotiating style, but was also a fitting metaphor for his mood towards EU colleagues in the last few days of the talks.

Early on he developed a "four-box grid" to describe the negotiating styles: teenager, tank, mouse, and leader. Frost said the EU leaned toward the first two while Britain was Theresa May's mouse.

According to a team member, "he reminded us that we had to be the leader in the room … we were told to be polite but tough".

There was certainly no love lost between Frost and Barnier.

Frost's habit of referring to the EU as "your organization" irritated the irritated Barnier, who snapped back: "You ask for respect for your sovereignty. Please respect ours." A UK source said: "Barnier hasn't." accepts that we are resilient, he complained that we are aggressive.

“We weren't aggressive, we were direct. It's fair to say Frosty and Barnier won't keep in touch. They really didn't like each other. But if history is made we will likely find that many of the EU leaders have lost all confidence in Barnier. & # 39;

For the past ten days, Boris Johnson and von der Leyen have been personally involved, including settling a sensitive dispute over components for electric cars, which are set to become a major export and domestic market for the Nissan and Toyota plants in the United Kingdom.

The fishing problem was more difficult to solve. The couple called a dozen times, four times on Wednesday alone.

While Boris Johnson is notorious for ignoring details, he's been all over the fine print here after promising never to "sell" our trawlers. A real sign of progress this week was when Stephanie Riso, von der Leyen's chief advisor, took part in the talks.

Riso called Frost on Tuesday evening to inform him that the EU would drop its longstanding demand to beat Britain with new tariffs if it restricts access to fishing waters. In the EU, there is talk of mutual retaliation.

In one of the many crunch calls between the Prime Minister and von der Leyen, he said to her: "Much lobster, no hammer" – German for "much lobster, no hammer". The European President has always called the EU's desire for retaliation a "hammer".

In return, Boris made a compromise by accepting a 25 percent reduction in EU fisheries with a transition period of five and a half years.

David Frost was delighted with the rise of the EU and called his officials, some of whom were already back at their hotel to go home for Christmas. They returned to work and by Wednesday afternoon the agreement was in principle made. Boris Johnson was seen in the air talking to von der Leyen during a Zoom call Wednesday afternoon. But even then, trouble brewed when both sides got stuck in an argument over "pelagic" fish.

Inshore pelagic fish include anchovies and sardines, while the oceanic pelagic fish include swordfish, tuna, and mackerel. It was a numbers game that spliced ​​and rolled odds and tried to agree to a police mechanism to reassure the French, Belgian, Danish and Dutch fishermen.

It was the fact that fish quotas were measured in financial terms rather than tonnage that caused disagreement. A senior source said, “We thought the deal would be announced at 7pm on Wednesday, so we didn't get much sleep that night in London. They didn't sleep at all in Brussels. «

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on a call to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on a call to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen

A member of the UK delegation commented sourly: “Sea pelagic fish include sharks, which appear to be all on the EU side of the water. We stared at mackerel at spreadsheets for hours. I swear some of us will never eat fish again. & # 39;

As the evening wore on, a delivery of pizzas appeared for weary officials – which caused a stir, though it had been an all too common sight for regular watchers over the years.

Von der Leyen took control of the 13th floor of the Berlaymont building, the seat of the European Commission. She got out of the way of Barnier, phoned EU leaders and kept Johnson on speed dial while her officials spoke directly to EU countries with strong fishing interests such as France and Holland.

It was a huge boost to the UK team's morale. Barnier lost both sides of the room. "There were voices raised on his side, not ours," added the official.

Before Barnier was brushed aside, frustration had grown over the seemingly insoluble dispute over mackerel. Some of the British delegations, exhausted and fearful of not being home for Christmas, burst into tears. “It was like pulling out my lashes one by one. It's painful, but everything has to be so precise, ”said one.

They tried to raise the mood by sending private WhatsApp messages through various EU officials they dealt with. They also sang songs from Les Miserables. Your favorite? Another day that summarized how the conversations dragged on.

The chorus includes the text: "Raise the flag of freedom … there is a new world to be won."

Then it turned out that the EU had used the wrong numbers to calculate what pelagic fish EU boats could land out of UK waters. After that, the agreement was quick.

At the time the contract was signed, the two teams had spent a total of more than 2,000 hours in rooms with little or no natural light in London and Brussels. They started sharing vitamin D tablets.

But that's all history now. The triumphant British team has replaced that Les Mis favorite with a song from another musical: The Room Where It Happens from Hamilton.

“There was no one else in the room where it happened. Nobody really knows how the game is played. The art of trading. How the sausage is made. & # 39; And of course how Brexit comes about.

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