Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.
As I write my final column of 2020, the Brexit free trade negotiation is still not done. Recent indications were that it will be, although their fate stlll seems swing back and forth.
But surely it has to be settled very soon if any deal is to be ratified by January 1st. I wouldn’t put it past the European Parliament to put a last minute spanner in the works, and declare that MEPs haven’t had time to scrutinise it. Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that.
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This week, Liz Truss signed a trade agreement with Mexico, a country we do £7 billion worth of trade with each year.
I’m going to be honest, and say that I was rather surprised when she topped the ConHome list of cabinet ministers last month but, when you think about it, she’s quietly got on with her job, and done what she’s there to do – sign trade agreements.
We’ve now got rollover agreements with most of the G20 countries which the EU already had a trade agreement with. I remember the days when Remainers said this would be impossible to do.
Well, Truss has proved the opposite.No grandstanding, no fuss, just getting on with it. When she was appointed, I thought it was a strange one, but she’s risen to the challenge and proved herself.
Only six months ago, she was being tipped for the chop in a reshuffle. If she were ditched now, it would be incredibly unfair. When people prove themselves in a job, it’s often a good idea to leave them there – and the next twelve months are going to be absolutely vital in the promotion of Global Britain. It would be no time for a trade novice.
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The announcement on Wednesday of the four nation approach to Covid restrictions over Christmas was a disaster from a communications viewpoint. To try to pretend, as the Prime Minister did, that the policy and guidelines remained unchanged was ridiculous, and further undermined the government’s approach.
When circumstances change – and they have changed since the initial announcement of the Christmas rules on December 2 – it would be wholly reasonable to change approach, even if there might be a political backlash.
Infections are rising in large parts of the country, as are hospital admissions. Death numbers are rising again, too. In those circumstances, would surely be reasonable to tighten the guidelines. Other European countries, such as Germany and the Netherlands have done it. It’s called leadership.
Boris Johnson appears to think the British public wouldn’t swallow it. All the polling suggests that they would. There will always be people who ignore anything the Government says and deliberately do the exact opposite, but most people do take notice of what Ministers and scientists say.
We know from the spike that happened after Thanksgiving in the America what happens when families get together. The virus spreads. And that’s what is undoubtedly going to happen over Christmas.
Would we be having this five day long super-spreader event, were it not for this annual holiday? No, of course we wouldn’t. In fact, I suspect much more severe measures than Tier Three would be imposed.
So when we get to the middle of January and we’re getting 40-50,000 new infections a day, and at the end of that month the death rate climbs to more than a thousand a day, many people will look back and blame the Prime Minister directly for it.
You can explain all you like that it’s individual people’s lack of discipline or adherence to the safety measures but the commentators and scientists will blame one person: Johnson.
I hope he’s got a good explanation ready. Having said all that, it will be interesting to compare infection rates in January in Wales with those of the rest of the UK. Mark Drakeford has said only two families may meet over Christmas rather than three, and is criminalising anyone caught breaching the limit. Nicola Sturgeon hasn’t gone that far, but she’s advising people only to meet on one day, with no overnight stay.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister is saying that just because you can doesn’t mean you should, and that we should all enjoy a smaller, shorter Christmas. In essence, he’s trusting the people to do the right thing. In normal circumstances, that ought to be the right message. In this case, that message has been undermined, yet again, by a lack of clarity. It’s something I suspect we’re all going to live to regret.
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As this is my final column of the year, let me conclude by wishing you all a very Happy Christmas – and let’s hope that 2021 is a much better year for all of us and the country.