As I start to write this column, I see the very welcome news that 82 year old Brian Pinker has become the first person to receive the UK-developed University of Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccination.
This is the second coronavirus vaccine which has been approved by the independent regulator, the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. From Monday (4th January) the NHS started administering the first 530,000 doses of this vaccine, with 100 million doses secured in total, alongside the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine which more than a million people have already received.
This is part of an enormous national effort which has already seen more people inoculated in the UK than the rest of Europe put together. Indeed Great Britain was the first country anywhere to vaccinate against COVID-19; over a week before America and almost a month ahead of the EU.
The advantage of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is that it can be stored at standard kitchen fridge temperatures, which makes it far easier to distribute to locations, such as care homes. The vaccines are being deployed via NHS hubs in Crawley and nationwide.
Another significant piece of good news came over Christmas when the Prime Minister secured and Parliament approved the UK-EU agreement which delivers what Crawley and the country voted for in 2016.
The European Union (Future Relationship) Act represents the largest free trade agreement in history, allowing the UK full access to the EU and the ability to strike trade deals globally, with significant recent agreements already signed from Japan to Singapore and from Canada to Turkey.
There is no role for the European Court of Justice, no more billions of pounds payments and no requirements for the UK to continue to follow EU law. One of the key reasons I campaigned for Brexit was to ensure our political and economic independence and to ensure our laws are determined by our elected politicians who are accountable to the British people.
It is the first free trade agreement based on zero tariffs and zero quotas that the EU has ever agreed; with businesses able to continue to trade smoothly.
This deal delivers on the British commitment to maintaining – and indeed exceed – high labour and environment standards without giving the EU any say over our rules. Superior UK standards have never been dependent on EU membership. Our living wage and entitlements to sick pay, parental leave and annual leave already go way beyond what the EU requires.
At this time of year the nights are still cold and dark but we know the days are getting inexorably longer, it is a good metaphor for where we are: Covid challenges still exist but with vaccines, the end is in sight; on Brexit the deal is done and the opportunities of independent global Britain lay before us. Over the past week I have been wishing ‘a happier New Year’, and so I do to all across Crawley.
Henry Smith MP