Britain has much to look forward to in 2021, we just need to carry on vaccinations and ironing out border problems, argues John Baron MP.

2020 was bookended by two major developments with the EU – our departure in January and our leaving the transition period in December. All this was as expected, but the entirely unexpected coronavirus pandemic cast a long shadow over the year. It will continue to do for much of 2021. However, the vaccine programme offers good cause for optimism.

After the exhilaration of leaving the EU came the hard yards of the negotiations with the EU over a free trade agreement. The Government was quite right to dismiss those who insisted that successfully negotiating a trade agreement could not be achieved in under a year. The Australian Government's success in signing trade deals in short order with Japan, South Korea and China shows that much progress can be made if firm deadlines are agreed.

In this respect Mr Barnier's much-vaunted 'ticking clock' worked to our mutual advantage, as it compelled our negotiators to keep talks moving. It was no surprise that the talks went down to the wire, as EU negotiators invariably only discuss the really important matters at two minutes to midnight.  The deal is not perfect, but a tariff- and quota-free arrangement which also gives our Westminster Parliament sovereign control over our affairs, with no involvement of the European Court of Justice, is just the sort of deal we Brexiteers had been hoping for.

Now the UK has left the Single Market and Customs Union, there will be some border friction. This has led to some initial delays as companies and customs officials on both sides get used to the new system and how it operates, though these should reduce shortly as everyone gets into the new groove.

The EU would be wise not to make unnecessary border difficulties just to prove a point – though reports of over-zealous EU officials confiscating British hauliers' bacon sarnies suggests otherwise. There is a wide world out there which produces products every bit as good as countries on the Continent. It may be that in the years to come British consumers buy rather more New World wines and leave champagne for special occasions.

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Leaving the EU opens up a world of possibilities, which the UK would do well to capitalise upon. It is good news that the new Secretary of State for Business is conducting a review of our business regulations to see where there is scope for divergence. There will be no 'bonfire of workers' rights' – UK regulations, from maternity leave, to the minimum wage and to annual holiday allowances, tend to be higher than EU norms in any case. However, there will be areas where regulations can improve, and I look forward to the outcome of these and related reviews across Government.

Drawing upon my own expertise as a fund manager, I put forward my own suggestions EU regulation reforms during the recent passage of the Financial Services Bill. Investment trusts are not well understood on the Continent, and accordingly EU regulations have served them poorly, particularly when it comes to drawing up investor information documents which can be very misleading. Reforming this is just the type of divergence which we should welcome, now our sovereign Parliament is able to do so.

Having restored this sovereignty to our Parliament at Westminster, it was surprising when a high-profile amendment to the Trade Bill, which garnered wide support across the House, appeared to dilute this. Whilst I strongly agree that there are important questions to be asked as to the conduct of the Chinese authorities in Xinjiang, I am not supportive of moves to empower the High Court to overturn the will of elected Parliamentarians by affecting our international trade relations. This is the proper preserve of MPs and Peers, who can be held accountable, and the prorogation case at the Supreme Court in 2019 shows the disadvantages and dangers of drawing the judiciary into the political sphere. MPs should always be wary of creating new problems when attempting to solve old ones.

Looming over all these developments is coronavirus, which has recently reached the grim milestone of 100,000 deaths. However, with an accelerating vaccination programme we have our route out. The trajectory of the pandemic could come perhaps more quickly than many imagine. It is estimated that once care home residents and the over-80s are jabbed, two-thirds of potential deaths from Covid-19 will be avoided. By the time the NHS jabs the first four priority groups, which it intends to do by mid-February, this should rise to nearly 90%.

It seems the limiting factor in the vaccination programme is the supply of the vaccine itself. There are worrying suggestions that the EU Commission, under particular pressure from the German Government, may take the extreme and unacceptable step of imposing a trade blockade, preventing deliveries of vaccines manufactured in the EU from being exported. Whilst this is a move that President Trump might have contemplated, it is extraordinary that the EU is considering this action.

More broadly, the EU Commission's botched vaccine procurement process, for which it will not answer to any voters, is a sad and unexpected early vindication of our departure from the EU. The UK has had the freedom to run its own programme and rely upon its own regulator with a nimbleness and fleetness of foot that has escaped the EU Commission. Yes, legally it could have done this inside the EU, but neither Germany (which invented the BioNTech jab) nor Belgium (which manufactures it) has done so, confirming the strong political and moral norms amongst EU member states to keep to the EU line.

If done right, the vaccination programme offers Britain a timely exit from this nightmare, with a boost to the economy and with an overall good news story to sell to the world. Get it wrong, and the opposites may equally apply. In many ways Nadhim Zahawi is now the most important man in Britain. Power to his elbow indeed.

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