Covid vaccines and flawed Brexit deal give us a chance to turn Britain's fortunes around – Christine Jardine MP

There was a strange symmetry in the fact that the approval of the Oxford Astra-Zeneca vaccine gained approval on the same day as our trade deal with the EU was passed by MPs.

UK chief trade negotiator, David Frost, looks on as Boris Johnson holds up the the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK and the EU as he signed it at Downing Street on December 30 (Picture: Leon Neal/pool/AFP via Getty Images)
UK chief trade negotiator, David Frost, looks on as Boris Johnson holds up the the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK and the EU as he signed it at Downing Street on December 30 (Picture: Leon Neal/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Potential relief from the two great challenges facing the UK, at the very close of one of the most difficult years in modern British History.

Both have been awaited with growing concern over what their non-appearance could mean for a public health system rapidly approaching breaking point, and an economy struggling under the twin weights of Covid-19 and our departure from the EU.

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One of them, however, has been subject to far greater scrutiny and offers far more promise of success than the other.

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A leaking vessel

Don’t get me wrong. I was as eager to see a deal with the European Union as the keenest and most pressed of our businesses in light of a departure I didn’t want.

I want to move on from the past four-and-a-half years and build a new, positive relationship with the EU that helps the UK economy sustain its international position as we recover from Covid-19.

A volunteer is given the newly approved vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. (Picture: John Cairns/University of Oxford/PA Media)

But this, the only deal offered up by the joint negotiating teams of the UK and European Union, needs more work. And there was no time for that.

While I fear that the more we examine it and the further we travel into the open waters beyond the European Union, the more the leaks in our new deal will emerge.

We had a choice. Jump out into the open water with no vessel or make the best of this one and work on it as we go.

We all know the SNP would have us jump straight in and start swimming against the tide, but I would much rather stay dry and improve the faulty deal.

Worse than that they try and tell us that the European Union would come to the rescue of an independent Scotland.

In the recalled Commons the SNP’s Ian Blackford accused the Conservatives of drowning in delusion. A phrase about pots and kettles springs to mind.

Scotland, independent, could not re-join without meeting the criteria set down, and we do not.

‘Window on the world’

Even if we did it would take years, during which we would be cut off from both unions, adrift in a sea of economic troubles.

We are where we are and it is time to put the arguments about the European Union behind us and focus on building a better future.

One of the ironies of this past year is the pain we have felt at being cut off from both our near neighbours and those further afield.

As holidays and thoughts of visiting family and friends abroad have been abandoned, it has at times felt as if our domestic “window on the world” was toying with us.

Searching through uploaded boxed sets, and long-forgotten gems offered anew in the crisis, I found by chance Michael Palin: Travels of a Lifetime.

The first time I caught it happened to coincide with the queues of lorries making their way at snails’ pace through the English countryside after France decided to close her borders.

A torturous glimpse of what failure to reach an EU deal might have offered.

Cut off, economically, by our own political decisions, at the same time as we were confined within our borders by a virus out of control.

No wonder, perhaps, then I took comfort in one of our national treasures successfully navigating some of the world’s most impressive landscapes.

UK could have done better

The popularity of this, and another outward-bound TV shows, has served throughout lockdown to underline our commitment to experiencing, either in person or by proxy, the rest of the world.

As I listened to my colleagues, and political opponents, discuss the deal in the Commons I thought again about those travel shows which have helped sustain so many of us.

And I realised that part of their appeal comes from a desire to hold on tight to two intangibles that define who we are, or at least want to be: our economic strength as one of the world’s largest economies and our ability to move and trade freely.

Hansard will record that in the Commons I followed my party line and voted against the deal. But that was not because I wanted it to be rejected and leave the EU empty handed.

No. It was simply to register that I think the UK government could have done better for our businesses and service sector.

If I had thought for a moment that no deal might be the option I would have voted differently. I very nearly did.

The deal we have now is worse than the one we had as a member, which in truth was always going to be the case.

But we saw in the reaction to the new variant Covid-19 what no deal would have meant. The reality of closed borders would have translated into access to medicines curtailed and Scottish goods wilting in a layby.

As we enter a new year, we all surely have a responsibility to do whatever we can to ensure that it is better than the last.

The Astra-Zeneca vaccine offers the possibility that we can emerge from the Covid crisis in the spring, and earlier than we feared.

Our deal with the EU is not a good deal but we have to work with it and build a new and different relationship with our European partners.

If 2020 has been the worst of times we must use the twin achievements of its last week to make 2021 the beginning of the best of times.

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