It was one of the most difficult years most of us can remember. The Covid pandemic has been a cruel enemy, bringing pain and suffering to every corner of our country. But at the end of 2020, there is hope. Governments in the UK have worked together to contain the disease. And the vaccines being rolled out now promise a release from the hold of the virus.
There is also a renewed reason to view 2021 with optimism now that we have reached a comprehensive trade deal with our friends in the EU.
As a Scotsman I have no doubt that the agreement reached by this government recognizes Scotland’s distinct contribution to the UK.
It’s a deal that works for Scotland’s fishermen, farmers and distillers; for our scientists and manufacturers, our exporters and those in financial services. It also gives us the opportunity to do things differently, and better, for all of our citizens. We can bring growth back to our coastal communities, better support our energy sector as it adapts to a zero carbon world, and establish Freeports as magnets for international investment.
This is the only deal that the EU has signed with another country where there are no tariffs or quotas on goods, nor any obligation to follow EU rules. This means we can provide cash support to industries, develop new ways to support our farmers and invest in new opportunities for our universities without EU laws stopping us. And we’ve also made sure we’re outside the common fisheries policy, with more of our own fish landed in our own ports and control over who comes into our territorial waters.
I grew up in Aberdeen, with my dad who ran a fish processing business, so I know how vital it was for our negotiators to keep going until the last possible moment on the last possible day to get the best deal possible, not just for our fishing industry. , but the industry as a whole.
Where UK fishermen are currently entitled to about half the fish in our waters, in 2026 they will take two-thirds of our marine wealth – a huge increase. And in the meantime, during the transitional period agreed with the EU for both sides to adjust to the scale of the change, there will be a gradual increase in the amount of fish we are allowed to take.
We will use this time to invest in the UK fleet and our communities, to ensure that they can take full advantage of the wealth that is due to us, and to build a sustainable industry and healthy stocks. I am delighted to say that details of a major fundraising program will be announced very soon.
And the good news also extends to our processing plants in Scotland, who can continue to do business with the EU and elsewhere, and to our shellfish exporters, who can continue to do business with our European neighbors unhindered by the rights of customs.
What about trade within the UK domestic market? It is vital for all of Scotland. Scotland trades more than three times as much with the rest of the UK as with the rest of the world combined, which is why the UK government is legislating to ensure there are no barriers for Scottish companies doing business in other parts of the UK. . The UK is the most important market for Scotland, worth over £ 55 billion a year, and we will protect it.
As with any negotiation, there were compromises. However, we have not given way to our sovereignty and are in total control of our own destiny – free to pursue bold policies, like the points-based immigration system that has already been put into operation, and to keep our workforce, environment and climate high. standards without being constrained by the EU.
We can target our money where it is needed most, in Scotland and the UK. As we strive to create a growth-friendly, greener and outward-looking economy, we will open access to new markets and support businesses in a targeted manner with a modern subsidy system that enables Scottish industry to develop and prosper.
The best of both worlds means we can take a bold leadership role on the global stage while working closely with our closest neighbors. 2021 will be our opportunity to show what Global Britain means to the rest of the world: chairing the G7; host COP26 – the world’s largest climate change summit – in Glasgow; entering into trade agreements with new markets; to reaffirm ourselves as a liberal and ambitious trading nation.
And in the largest transfer of power in history to devolved administrations, as EU structures collapse at the end of this year, Edinburgh – along with Cardiff and Belfast – will regain control of Brussels in areas keys, in a fantastic boosting democracy in every country in the UK.
On a range of environmental issues, including air quality, protection of the marine environment, promotion of biodiversity, setting of energy efficiency targets and flood risk management; on public procurement, and on food standards and labeling – voters will have their interests represented at the local level by directly elected and accountable politicians.
We got a taste of those new-found freedoms when we became the first country in the world to license a COVID-19 vaccine earlier this month. By December 20, nearly 57,000 people in Scotland had received their first dose of breakthrough protection from Pfizer, and the scale and speed of the vaccination program offers the real prospect that we can, as the Prime Minister says, start to “ get our lives back ‘in 2021.
For all of us, it’s a beacon of hope on our journey back to normalcy – and a powerful symbol of how a fast, nimble and nimble UK can use change to improve people’s lives.
The UK government is buying the vaccines for the whole of the UK and working closely with the Scottish Government to get them into the hands of our amazing NHS staff ASAP: functioning as ‘Team UK’, like this has been the case throughout the pandemic. .
Thanks to our integrated national health service, the close links between the Health Trusts in England and the 14 Health Councils in Scotland, and frequent engagement between UK and Scottish government ministers, the process has been expedited and patients protected faster.
Along with the trade deal, these are two world premieres for our UK in the month of December alone – major milestones on the biggest issues that have dominated 2020 globally. Whether on COVID or Brexit, there is still a lot of work to be done, but these are brilliant breakthroughs nonetheless.
Part of the work that remains to be done concerns the final preparations for our exit from the single market and customs union at the end of the transition period next week, on December 31. This is still the case, even with the trade agreement concluded. Most companies doing business with the EU need to take the same measures broadly and the government is ready to help adapt to new systems and processes coming on January 1. You will find a lot of advice at www.gov.uk/transition and I urge you to check if you have anything left to do in the time available.
For the whole of the UK, January 1 also marks the start of a new chapter in our national history. With effective weapons against COVID-19 and Brexit finally delivered, my wish for the New Year is to bottle that national spirit and take it with us in 2021 – to seize and make the most of the benefits and fantastic opportunities awaiting all parts of Great Britain.
Michael Gove is Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster