Last year, nearly all my blogs were about Brexit. This year, the pandemic has almost completely swept Brexit aside. But it hasn’t gone away, and we are now at a crucial point in our negotiations with the European Union.
When we left the European Union in January, a transition period until the end of 2020 was agreed, so that agreement could be reached on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. That was important, so that we could decide for example on what tariffs and customs checks would apply to goods moving between the EU and the UK, how we’d share criminal records and security information so we could deal with international crime and terrorism, and common standards that would apply to medicines, foodstuffs and animal welfare.
We now have under 3 weeks to go until the end of the transition period, and it is not at all clear if a deal will be agreed to finalise these and other matters, even though Boris Johnson told us a year ago he had an ‘oven ready deal‘ ready to go. I’m really concerned about the huge uncertainty this creates for local businesses exporting goods, about the threat to our country’s security, and for our standing in the world.
The prime minister and the president of the European Commission have promised we will know by Sunday if a deal is possible or not. This couldn’t be more crucial for the future of our country, but as things stand, we have no idea if one can be agreed. This brinkmanship by the government is dangerously irresponsible – matters should have been resolved months ago. I’ll be watching developments closely over the weekend, and desperately hoping a deal can be agreed.
Of course, we have become used to living with uncertainty this year, but it is great news that the first vaccinations against covid are beginning to take place this week. The scale of the task of vaccinating millions of people in this country, and billions around the world, can’t be overstated, but the start of the vaccination programme gives us hope. I’m also very relieved that infection rates in Greater Manchester have fallen quite quickly in recent weeks, following the stricter restrictions imposed on us last month. But while everyone wants to spend time with family and friends this Christmas, the risks haven’t gone away. It would be awful to see rates start to rocket again, and a very difficult decision will be taken next week about whether and when our restrictions can be relaxed. I’ll make sure to keep constituents informed.
On a happier note, this week, I was very pleased to catch up on the Imperial War Museum’s plans for 2021. We are so lucky to have this amazing museum on our doorstep, and I have really missed being able to drop in. Their powerful exhibitions always teach me new information, both about wars of the past and contemporary conflicts, and the impact on whole populations affected by war. Next year, the wonderful poppy installation will be returning permanently to the museum, and will offer a stunning introduction to the museum as soon as you come through the front door. I’d really urge constituents to plan a visit when the museum reopens next year. That’s something to look forward to.