It feels incredible to me that we are already in the New Year of 2021 and I hope that you all had a great Christmas. Last year was very difficult for us all, but this January is full of optimism as we move forward. The coronavirus vaccine which began rollout out last December will put an end to the pandemic which caused so much disruption to all our lives. I am very proud that this country came together and was able to deliver the first vaccine in the world to its population.
Britain’s spirit and ingenuity will be showcased this year as we once again take our place as a global trading nation. I look forward to working with partners around the world and in Europe as we strive to make the very best of our ability to trade independently with other nations. North Cornwall’s businesses have an exciting role to play and an opportunity to open into new markets. I look forward to supporting them, as promoting our constituency and our fantastic companies is a great part of the job I do on behalf of North Cornwall.
Prior to New Year, MPs voted to approve an agreement between the EU and the UK. The high level of alignment proposed in the future relationship between the UK and the EU under Theresa May led me to resign my position as a PPS in 2018. Since that first proposal, my approach to any new trading arrangements has been hopeful but also with a bit of scepticism.
Before voting, I read the full text of the proposed Trade and Cooperation Agreement and the annexes in full and would make the following comments.
Firstly, this agreement is a dramatic improvement on anything proposed in the past. This trading arrangement is much looser than the future relationship document proposed under Theresa May. We share ambitions in several areas with the EU, but both parties will be recognised as sovereign equals and are able to do things differently. The document secures one of the largest zero-tariff and zero-quota free trading zones in the world and is the first free trade agreement of its kind the EU has ever signed. It takes back control of our laws, our borders, and our money. It will end the jurisdiction of the European Courts of Justice and any arbitration of the deal is dealt with by a mutually agreed independent panel. This is not unusual - all countries’ trading arrangements have some degree of oversight.
On fisheries, I am pleased that we will eventually meet the aim of controlling the fishery with annual discussions similar to Norway, and our fishermen will get a fairer share of the catch starting from next year. Our quota will increase year on year up until 2025 at which point the current transition agreement expires, and we gain full control of our fisheries, and we can negotiate with the Europeans again over market access, permissions, and quotas should we wish to.
I, and most in the industry, fully accepted that expanding our fishing industry back to where it used to be will take time and that we had to balance access to our fisheries with access to the European market for our fishermen to sell into. However, I am disappointed the agreement does not make this transition quicker. It is not a deal-breaker but there is no doubt that it is a compromise. The important thing to remember is that our fishermen will be able to catch more fish than at any point in the last forty years, they can still access markets abroad, and we stand to build on this in the future.
Considering the agreement as a whole, in my opinion, it does almost exactly what we want a Brexit trade deal to do. It should be seen as a great success from the Prime Minister and his negotiator, Lord Frost.
Nearly four years after the referendum we left the European Union in January of 2020, and within 12 months of that we have secured from scratch, a free trade agreement than many at the time said was impossible. This mutual agreement will enable free trade across Europe and sits nicely alongside the other 60 other free trade agreements the UK has signed in the last 12 months.
Looking forward we must take full advantage of the opportunities Brexit presents. Businesses thrive and expand when there are people with the skills and training, they need to fill roles. This is one of the reasons I have been pushing hard to ensure there are better opportunities for our young people to train in science, technology, and apprenticeships right here in North Cornwall. The new Truro & Penwith STEM centre at Callywith College is a big part of that vision. Students will be able to learn the skills that local employers and businesses are seeking without having to travel outside of the constituency, and students can graduate, move into the workforce, and build a life here without leaving. When I was first elected in 2015, children growing up and being forced to leave to build careers was one of the biggest concerns for parents in North Cornwall. I believe that my colleagues and I have taken great strides to change this over the last six years, and I am proud of what we have delivered so far.
None of this is possible without the infrastructure in transport, healthcare, and services to support it. For too long successive governments of all parties failed to address the need to level up the national economy and support the regions. The Conservative government which we are a part of is the first in a long time to really push for a self-sustaining and balanced economy for the South West, the North, and the Midlands, rather than one which is reliant on the South East and London. Despite the best intentions of programmes such as European Regional Development Funding, Cornwall has not seen the economic benefits which people were promised. In 2021 it is one of my key ambitions that we see a Shared Prosperity Fund which is simpler, more streamlined, and most importantly – far easier to access than anything which has been proposed before.
I wish you and your families a happy and healthy 2021.