Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 in Retrospect

 I was tempted to post a two word review of the year 2020 consisting of the words "Expletive deleted."

But although this would be tempting is it not absolutely fair.

Yes, the Coronavirus spoiled so many things about this year, but it also showed many aspects of humanity at their best.

Heroes like those who kept the NHS going.

Heroes like Sir Tom Moore and many others who did their bit to support NHS charities and others in need.

It is a marvellous achievement to have two vaccines ready and approved after detailed and rigorous clinical trials, to deal with a disease which none of us had even heard of a year ago.

After four and a half years of arguing about Brexit, we have finally managed to implement what the British people voted for - we left the EU earlier in the year, and although it was a even more last minute than I expected, (I always predicted we would get a deal, though we came a bit closer to not doing so than I anticipated) we finish the transition period at 11pm with a deal which preserves tariff-free access to European markets.

It was the year of the volunteer

Record numbers of people responded to the sudden crisis in their local communities: from preparing, serving or delivering food to the vulnerable to keeping an eye on them, from taking part in clinical trials for new drugs or vaccines to driving people to hospital, from contact tracing to providing social and psychological support, people have volunteered to help in their tens of thousands, as individuals or through collective organisations such as faith groups or charitable and social organisations.

People have been stepping up to the plate all around the world.

According to the Red Cross and Red Crescent, 78,000 new volunteers signed up to help in the US; in Italy the figure was nearly 60,000. There were 48,000 people in the Netherlands and 35,000 in Kenya. In Tuvalu, a country with no recorded cases of Covid-19, the local Red Cross welcomed 130 new volunteers. 

“In response to unprecedented humanitarian need, we have witnessed equally unprecedented humanity and kindness,” said Francesco Rocca, the president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “Though the future can seem bleak and the world divided because of this virus, every individual action of solidarity, of peace, of lending a hand and supporting your community counts.”


Development of new types of vaccine shows scientific innovation at its best.

The traditional process of developing and approving new medical treatments usually takes the best part of a decade and sometimes longer - in fact I'm told the previous record for the quickest development of an approved vaccine with clinical trials and checks was four years. But in the face of a global crisis the world has shown that we can do better than that.

It is truly amazing that the development, large scale clinical testing, regulatory approval after peer-reviewed assessment of the evidence, the start of large-scale manufacture and the beginning of a process of mass inoculation for not one but two completely new types of vaccine, of a new type and against a previously unknown disease, has been completed in less than a year. This is an absolutely unprecedented achievement.

Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna designed a molecule called messenger RNA or mRNA which, injected into cells, instructs them to make the proteins usually found in the virus, stimulating an immune response from the body. Rollout has already started, and though vaccinating about 8 billion people will be a medical challenge unparalleled in human history, the breakthrough has certainly raised hopes that 2021 will be a better year than its predecessor.

Although the technology had been in development for some years, mRNA vaccines had never before been licensed for use in humans. One big advantage is that they can be made fast: it’s a chemical process, with no need to grow proteins or viruses. But this also needs a whole new technology that, suitably refined, could change forever how medicine fights not just COVID-19, indeed not just viruses, but also other forms of disease and perhaps even cancer. These are early days, but the leap forward looks very promising.

As Boris Johnson said in his New Year message, 2020 was “the year in which the Government was forced to tell people how to live their lives, how long to wash their hands, how many households could meet together. And a year in which we lost too many loved ones before their time.


“So I can imagine that there will be plenty of people who will be only too happy to say goodbye to the grimness of 2020. But just before we do, I want to remind you that this was also the year when we rediscovered a spirit of togetherness, of community.


“It was a year in which we banged saucepans to celebrate the courage and self-sacrifice of our NHS staff and care home workers. A year in which working people pulled the stops out to keep the country moving in the biggest crisis we have faced for generations:  shop-workers, transport staff, pharmacists, emergency services, everyone, you name it.


New Year's Eve music: "Ring Out Wild Bells"

A change of calendar will not magically eliminate all the problems of the past twelve months, and even this dark year included some good things.

Nevertheless, there has never in all my life been a year I am as glad to post this song to say goodbye to as 2020.

Michael Gove ridicules SNP vote for a No Deal Brexit

As they threatened last week the SNP effectively voted for a "No Deal" Brexit yesterday. 

Britain had already left the EU nearly a year ago, and the trading relationship we had previously had with EU countries expires at 11pm tonight.
 
After a deal between the UK and EU negotiators was finally reached on Christmas Eve this was the deal on the table. Imagining that any other deal was still an option yesterday would have been pure fantasy - there was no way that some alternative deal could have been negotiated and ratified before the transition period expires in a few hours' time.

In the real world there were two options available to parliament yesterday: to ratify the real deal which was actually on the table, or a "No Deal" Brexit.

The SNP went into the lobbies against the deal - and if they had won that vote we would have had a "no deal" Brexit tomorrow. The SNP had previously described the possibility of a "No Deal" Brexit as "catastrophic" and said it would cost 100,000 jobs in Scotland and "plunge the economy into recession". One SNP member of parliament, Joanna Cherry, even went to court to try to get a ruling that the PM should go to jail if there was a "No deal" Brexit.

Yet that's what the SNPs MPs all voted for yesterday.

Michael Gove had some fun at their expense ...



I disagree with Sir Kier Starmer on many things, but unlike his predecessor or the SNP leadership he is a "grown-up" politician and he recognised this and whipped his MPs to vote for the deal, which most of them did. 

As Sir Keir pointed out, the SNP and other "Remainers" who voted against the deal on the table were voting for a "No Deal" Brexit.

They were voting for something they did not want (and indeed knew would be disastrous for Scotland and England) and were relying on other MPs to vote more responsibly and save them from the consequences of what would otherwise be an utterly disastrous vote. 

I do not often post with approval any part of a speech by a leader of the Labour party so make the most of it, but here is a clip of him making the point:

EU Deal ratified by parliament

 

  • Yesterday, both Houses of Parliament approved the EU Trade deal which sets out the basis for have the United Kingdom to trade with the EU after the transition period expires at 11pm tonight. This delivers on what the British people voted for both in the referendum and the last election. 
     
  • As promised, this deal takes back control of our laws, borders, money, trade and fisheries – and it ends any role for the European Court. From 1st January 2021, the United Kingdom will have political and economic independence. 
     
  • Britain will enter the New Year as a fully sovereign nation. 2021 will be our opportunity to show what Global Britain means to the rest of the world: striking trade deals with new markets, reasserting ourselves as a liberal and free trading nation; and acting as a force for good in the world.

This agreement:

  • Is based on international law, not EU law. There is no role for the European Court of Justice and no requirements for the UK to continue to follow EU law. All of our key red lines about returning sovereignty have been achieved. We will have full political and economic independence on 1st January 2021 and our laws will be determined by our own elected politicians.
     
  • It is the first free trade agreement based on zero tariffs and zero quotas that the EU has ever agreed. This will be fantastic news for families and businesses in every part of the UK. Businesses will be able to continue to trade smoothly and people will be able to continue to buy goods from Europe tariff-free. From financial services through to automotive manufacturing, the deal protects high quality jobs and investment right across the UK. And people will be able to continue to buy goods from Europe tariff-free, protecting consumer prices.
     
  • Secures the promise in the 2019 Conservative manifesto to protect and boost our economy and provides for continued market access across a broad scope of key service sectors, including professional and business services. This market access will support new and continued investment between businesses. It also means that business travellers will be able to easily move between the EU and the UK for short term visits and the agreement on financial services ensures financial stability and consumer protection.
     
  • Recognises UK sovereignty over our fishing waters and puts us in a position to rebuild our fishing fleet and increase quotas, overturning the inequity that British fishermen have faced for over four decades. By the end of the five-and-a-half-year transition period, we will have full control of our waters and the amount of fish available to UK fishermen will have risen from half to two-thirds.  
     
  • Delivers on our commitment to maintaining high labour, environment and climate standards without giving the EU any say over our rules. The UK’s high standards have never been dependent on EU membership. For example, our living wage and entitlements to sick pay, parental leave and annual leave already go way beyond what the EU requires.
     
  • Allows Britain to introduce our own subsidy system so that we can better support businesses to grow and thrive. This new subsidy regime will operate in a way that best suits the interests of UK industries - fundamentally different from EU State Aid.
     
  • Supports the UK government's primary objective of prioritising the safety and security of the UK’s citizens. It offers streamlined co-operation on law enforcement, ensuring we continue to effectively tackle serious organised crime and counter terrorism, protecting the public, and bringing criminals to justice. It also provides for future cooperation between the UK and EU on emerging security challenges, such as cyber and health security, including continuing to work together on tackling the spread of Covid-19.
     
  • Provides for the UK’s participation in certain EU programmes where they are in our interest and fulfilling our commitment to making the UK a science and research superpower. We will continue to participate in the science and research programmes, Horizon Europe, Euratom Research and Training programme, and the space programme, Copernicus.
     
  • Delivers for our citizens, making our daily lives easier. It includes arrangements for airlines and hauliers that provides them with certainty, and gives people the ability to travel to and from the EU easily for work and holidays; a social security agreement that has practical benefits for UK citizens including accessing healthcare when travelling in the EU; and agreements on energy which will benefit consumers by helping to keep prices down.
     
  • Finally, the deal delivers for the entire UK, protecting the integrity of our internal market and Northern Ireland’s place within it. Northern Ireland businesses will have unfettered access to the rest of the UK market under all circumstances; there are no tariffs on goods remaining within the UK customs territory; the deal enables smooth flow of trade with no need for new physical customs infrastructure; and there is no legal confusion about the fact that, while Northern Ireland will remain subject to the EU’s State Aid regime for the duration of the Protocol, Great Britain will not be subject to EU rules in this area.

Quote of the day for new year's eve, 31st December 2020

 


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Most of England goes into Tier 4 from tomorrow

Cumbria, along with nearly all of the North West of England and about 78% of the population of England as a whole will move into Tier four just after midnight in the early hours of tomorrow morning.

Before the enormous uptick in the rate at which COVID-19 is spreading, apparently because of the new variant, I think most of us would have hoped this would not be necessary, but after the figures which I discussed in my post this morning some action at least as severe as this was, frankly inevitable.

The government has now announced that the following local authority areas will move to Tier 4: Stay at Home from the beginning of Thursday 31 December 2020:

  • Leicester City
  • Leicestershire (Oadby and Wigston, Harborough, Hinckley and Bosworth, Blaby, Charnwood, North West Leicestershire, Melton)
  • Lincolnshire (City of Lincoln, Boston, South Kesteven, West Lindsey, North Kesteven, South Holland, East Lindsey)
  • Northamptonshire (Corby, Daventry, East Northamptonshire, Kettering, Northampton, South Northamptonshire, Wellingborough)
  • Derby and Derbyshire (Derby, Amber Valley, South Derbyshire, Bolsover, North East Derbyshire, Chesterfield, Erewash, Derbyshire Dales, High Peak)
  • Nottingham and Nottinghamshire (Gedling, Ashfield, Mansfield, Rushcliffe, Bassetlaw, Newark and Sherwood, Nottinghamshire, Broxtowe)
  • Birmingham and Black Country (Dudley, Birmingham, Sandwell, Walsall, Wolverhampton)
  • Coventry
  • Solihull
  • Warwickshire (Rugby, Nuneaton and Bedworth, Warwick, North Warwickshire, Stratford-upon-Avon)
  • Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent (East Staffordshire, Stafford, South Staffordshire, Cannock Chase, Lichfield, Staffordshire Moorlands, Newcastle under Lyme, Tamworth, Stoke-on-Trent)
  • Lancashire (Burnley, Pendle, Blackburn with Darwen, Ribble Valley, Blackpool, Preston, Hyndburn, Chorley, Fylde, Lancaster, Rossendale, South Ribble, West Lancashire, Wyre)
  • Cheshire and Warrington (Cheshire East, Cheshire West and Chester, Warrington)
  • Cumbria (Eden, Carlisle, South Lakeland, Barrow-in-Furness, Copeland, Allerdale)
  • Greater Manchester (Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, Wigan)
  • Tees Valley (Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, Stockton-on-Tees )
  • North East (County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside, Sunderland)
  • Gloucestershire (Gloucester, Forest of Dean, Cotswolds, Tewkesbury, Stroud, Cheltenham)
  • Somerset Council (Mendip, Sedgemoor, Somerset West and Taunton, South Somerset)
  • Swindon
  • Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole
  • Isle of Wight
  • New Forest

The following local authority areas will move to Tier 3: Very High from the beginning of Thursday 31 December 2020:

  • Rutland
  • Shropshire, and Telford and Wrekin
  • Worcestershire (Bromsgrove, Malvern Hills, Redditch, Worcester, Wychavon, Wyre Forest)
  • Herefordshire
  • Liverpool City Region (Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, Wirral, St Helens)
  • York and North Yorkshire (Scarborough, Hambleton, Richmondshire, Selby, Craven, Ryedale, Harrogate, City of York)
  • Bath and North East Somerset
  • Devon, Plymouth, Torbay (East Devon, Exeter, Mid Devon, North Devon, South Hams, Teignbridge, Torridge, West Devon, Plymouth, Torbay)
  • Cornwall
  • Dorset
  • Wiltshire


What Tier Four means is as follows:

  • people must not leave their home or garden unless they have a ‘reasonable excuse’ including where reasonably necessary for work, education, exercise or open air recreation and essential activities such as medical appointments and to buy food
  • people must not meet socially indoors, in a private garden or most outdoor public venues with anybody they do not live with or have a support bubble with. Everyone who can work from home should do so
  • people can see only one other person that they do not live with (or do not have a support bubble with) in certain public outdoor places – such as parks, public gardens, or outdoor sports facilities
  • weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the number of attendees – 6 people can attend wedding ceremonies, wedding receptions are not allowed, 30 people can attend funeral ceremonies, 6 people can attend linked commemorative events
  • accommodation such as hotels, B&Bs, campsites, holiday lets and guest houses must close, other than where very limited exceptions apply
  • hospitality settings, such as bars (including shisha bars), pubs, cafes, restaurants, and social clubs must close except for takeaway, delivery, drive-through and click and collect services. Takeaway must cease between 11pm and 5am, but delivery, drive-through and click-and-collect may continue during this period. This includes restaurants and bars within hotels or members’ clubs
  • indoor entertainment venues, such as casinos, bowling alleys, and bingo halls must close. Cinemas, theatres, and concert venues must also close
  • certain outdoor venues, such as botanical gardens, heritage sites, and zoos and other animal attractions may stay open, although indoor elements at these attractions must also close
  • all indoor leisure and sports facilities must close except where a legal exemption exists, such as for the training of elite sportspersons

See further details on Tier 4.

Whoever would have thought it?

If you had predicted to me a year ago, that on the penultimate day of 2020 the House of Commons would finally pass the trade treaty setting out the terms on which Britain will trade with the 27 EU countries after the Brexit transition period by 521 votes to 73, I would probably have

  1. nodded and said, "Yes, I could believe that" at the idea of it passing with one day to spare
  2. raised an eyebrow at the predicted size of the majority, and
  3. rolled on the floor laughing at the suggestion that this event would not be the top news story, not even one of the top two news stories of the day.
And then probably offered to arrange for you to have an interview with a nice helpful and friendly doctor to discuss Section II of the Mental Health Act 1983.

Carol of the day Myn Lyking

Measuring the impact of COVID-19

The vaccines which give us hope of a return to normality appear to have arrived just in time as the increased spread of  COVID-19, apparently due to the greater infectiousness of the new variant, has produced some very alarming figures over the last few days, with daily new cases passing 50k for the first time yesterday.


Although this particularly high figure may partly represent fluctuations in reporting over Christmas, scientists and statisticians say the main driver is a genuine underlying increase. Here is a table pulled together by the BBC using government sources of data showing the seven-day rolling average of new cases in the UK over the time of the pandemic.



However you measure COVID-19 related deaths, and as we'll see in a moment there are about three ways to do this, they are currently running at about half the daily rate at the peak of the first wave which is still a horribly high level.

The seven-day average daily death rate for COVID-related deaths in the UK is 466 as of this morning.

To put that in context, number of people dying with COVID-19 on the death certificate or within 28 days of a positive test every WEEK is nearly twice the number of people who have died from Road Traffic Accidents in the UK every YEAR for the last decade, (which up to and including the latest available figures, for 2019, has been stable at about 1750 a year according to Department of Transport road casualty figures.)



As mentioned there are three basic approaches to measuring the number of deaths caused by COVID-19: the first two look at deaths which either have COVID-19 mentioned on the death certificate or took place within 28 days of a positive diagnosis respectively.

A more complete picture - which has the advantage and disadvantage that it also picks up premature deaths caused indirectly by the coronavirus, including the net extra deaths caused by the measures taken to deal with it - is given by comparing the actual deaths per week with those which you would expect at the same time of year in an average year. 

Here is the current toll of premature deaths in the UK since the beginning of the pandemic on each of these three measures, compiled by the BBC from government figures:




These are statistics but every unit in each of those numbers represents a family who have lost someone they love earlier than would have been the case had there been no pandemic. Most often a father or mother, grandfather or grandmother but also uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, and some were sons and daughters of people still living.


The World Health Organisation global COVID-19 tracker data paints a fairly similar and utterly horrifying picture around the world: some countries are doing a bit better and others a bit worse but very few have been unscathed.  Globally, as of this morning there have been 80,453,105 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 1,775,776 deaths, reported to WHO.


The vaccinations which are now being rolled out will eventually bring us back to something like normality, probably about springtime, but there is going to be a very difficult two or three months first.

Between now and when we have finally vaccinated enough people to be able to safely resume most of the activities which before January 2020 we took for granted, there is going to be a period when strong social distancing precautions have to stay in place and may well need to get tougher. This is going to be painful for people who have already suffered so much. 

But the figures above for infections, hospitalisations and deaths explain why this is necessary. Without social distancing and other precautions we'd soon see death rates even higher than Britain suffered in April 2020 as the new variant spread like wildfire among the old and vulnerable. 

That cannot be allowed to happen. 

We will get through this. But we must not drop our guard against the Coronavirus until we have.

Oxford/AstraZenica vaccine against COVID-19 approved by MHRA for use in UK

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has become the second vaccination against COVID-19 approved for use in the UK, with the first doses due to be given on Monday 4th December.

The second jab, which has been described as a "game changer", has been given the green light by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The UK has ordered 100 million doses - enough to vaccinate 50 million people.

This will cover the entire population, when combined with the full order of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

The news comes as millions more people in England are expected to be placed under the toughest tier four restrictions as infections and hospitalisations rise, apparently because of the new and more infections variant.

Scientists believe that both the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine previously approved and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will still be effective against the new variant of COVID-19 but it is still very helpful to have two different vaccines available because this significantly reduces the risk that any resistant strain of the disease will be resistant to both vaccines.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will also be easier to rollout to GP surgeries and care homes because it does not have to be stored at minus 70 degrees, and instead can be stored in a standard fridge.

The UK strategy to vaccinate as many people as possible as rapidly as possible will make full use of both vaccinations.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the development "a triumph" for British science, adding: "We will now move to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible."

England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty praised the "considerable collective effort that has brought us to this point".

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Hancock said the development was a "significant moment" in the fight against the virus.

On Tuesday, 53,135 new Covid cases were recorded in the UK - the highest single day rise since mass testing began - as well as 414 more deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

Like the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was designed in the first half of 2020, with initial tests on volunteers soon after, and has since been through large-scale clinical trials involving thousands of people.

More than 600,000 people in the UK have been vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine since Margaret Keenan became the first in the world to be given it outside of a clinical trial. The UK's vaccination programme will deploy both vaccinations from early in the New Year.


Quote of the day 30th December 2020

"Those of us who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU never sought a rupture with our closest neighbours."

"What we sought was not a rupture but a resolution, a resolution of the old and vexed question of Britain's political relations with Europe, which bedevilled our post-War history."


(Boris Johnson, extracts released to the press this morning of draft speech to parliament in support of the trade deal.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

UK signs trade agreement with Turkey

The UK has signed a free trade deal with Turkey.

The continuity agreement, signed by both trade ministers on Tuesday in a video conference call, takes effect on 1 January and ensures that the existing flow of goods will not be affected when the UK formally leaves the EU at the end of the year.

Trade between London and Ankara was worth £18.6bn in 2019, and the UK is Turkey’s second-biggest export market, mostly for precious metals, vehicles, textiles and electrical equipment. While Turkey is not an EU member, it does have a customs union with the EU, meaning that the new UK-Turkey deal could not be struck until after the Brexit deal was finalised.

“Today’s deal delivers vital certainty for business and supports thousands of jobs across the UK in the manufacturing, automotive and steel industries,” said the international trade secretary, Liz Truss.

“It paves the way for a new, more ambitious deal with Turkey in the near future, and is part of our plan to put the UK at the centre of a network of modern agreements with dynamic economies.”

Turkey’s trade minister, Ruhsar Pekcan, called the deal a landmark in UK-Turkish relations.

According to the Department for International Trade, the new deal will secure existing preferential tariffs for 7,600 UK businesses exporting machinery, iron and steel to Turkey, and protect automotive and manufacturing supply chains.

The accord also commits both countries to discussions aimed at expanding the scope of the agreement to include services and agriculture within the next two years.

Turkey started talks aimed at joining the EU as far back as 2005, and at that time Britain was one of the countries supporting EU membership for Turkey - with people who were to end up on both sides of the Brexit argument, including David Cameron on the one side and Boris Johnson on the other, at that time supporting that position.

However, changes in the position of the present Turkish government made this increasingly more difficult.

The UK-Turkey agreement will come into force from next month. There will not be time for it to be fully ratified in either of the two countries’ parliaments before the year’s end, but both governments will use executive powers to apply it on an interim basis from 1st January until it can be put to their respective parliaments..

The deal with Turkey is the fifth-biggest of the bilateral free trade agreement the UK has negotiated with individual states after the deals with Japan, Canada, Switzerland and Norway. Trade agreements with 62 countries have now been signed in preparation for the UK’s formal exit from the EU single market on 1 January.

Daily Christmas music spot: The King's Singers sing "The Little Drummer Boy"

Quote of the day 29th December 2020


 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Carol of the day "In dulci jubilo" (Bach)


This version is half in German and half in Latin. If anyone wants me to post the lyrics with a translation into English, please let me know via posting a request in the comments.

EU agrees initial ratification of the Brexit trade agreement

 Ambassadors for the 27 EU states have unanimously agreed to ratify the Brexit trade agreement and that it can come into effect on an interim basis when the Brexit transition period expires at 11pm on Thursday night.

According to the Guardia website,

"At a meeting of ambassadors in Brussels, the 27 member states gave their support for the 1,246-page treaty to be “provisionally applied” at the end of the year. The decision will be formally completed by written procedure at 3pm central European time (1400 GMT) on Tuesday."

Final ratification will require the approval of the European parliament which will be sought in the first three months of the new year, probably in February or March.

It will also require the approval of the UK parliament, which will be sought on Wednesday. The signs are that Leave-supporting MPs are falling into line behind the deal. Because voting against it would be a vote for a "No Deal" Brexit, it is likely that Remain-supporting MPs will only vote against it if they are certain they're going to lose.

SNP Members of the Westminster parliament are likely to make that particular empty gesture, and the  Lib/Dem leader Sir Ed Davey suggested that his 11 MPs will abstain or vote against. However, it appears that most if not all Conservative MPs and the majority of Labour MPs will be backing the deal.

Sir Kier Starmer has put a whip on Labour MPs to back the trade agreement on the basis that it is preferable to "no deal." 

Although the possibility of some rebellions from opposite ends of the Brexit spectrum (e.g. hard-line Labour Remainers and hard-line Tory Brexiteers) cannot be ruled out, it would appear extremely unlikely that there will be enough Tory and Labour rebels to stop the deal getting through parliament.


Quote of the day for the Boxing day bank holiday, 28th December 2020

“The British have experienced diplomats who don’t give up and always ask for more,” 


(Michel Barnier, Chief EU trade negotiator, speaking today about the trade negotiations leading up to the Brexit deal signed on Christmas Eve.

As far as I can see the EU has possibly some of the toughest trade negotiators on the planet, so for them to say something like this is a bit like Mike Tyson describing another boxer as a tough opponent.) 


Sunday, December 27, 2020

SNP MPs to vote for "No Deal" Brexit

The Scottish National Party has confirmed that its MPs will vote against the trade deal agreed between the UK and EU on Wednesday when it comes before parliament for ratification.

Since Britain has already left the EU and the transition period under which we continued to trade with the EU on the same terms as when we were members expires at 11pm on Thursday evening, the choice for MPs on Wednesday is between trading on the terms agreed in this deal or a "No Deal" Brexit.

There is absolutely no mechanism to cancel Brexit at this stage. It has already happened, and if we wanted to reverse it Britain would have to apply to re-join on the the same basis and using the same mechanisms as a country who had never been an EU member state. It would be completely impossible to do that in five days.

The SNP's Westminster leader described Brexit as 

"An unforgivable act of economic vandalism and gross stupidity, which will cause lasting damage to the economy and leave the UK much worse off at the worst possible time."

If there were any danger of the deal not being ratified, I think those words from Ian Blackford are a  better description of what he and his chums will be doing on Wednesday when they go into the lobby to vote for a ne-deal Brexit. Substitute the word "Scotland" for "the UK" and it's an even better description of what the SNPs central policy of Independence would do to Scotland.

From what I've read of the deal so far - and I have not had the chance to read all 1,200 pages of it - while it is certainly not perfect it looks like a much better basis for trade than what has been variously described as an "Australian style" Brexit (though Australia is now actually trying to negotiate a trade deal with the EU) or World Trade Organisation terms, but IMHO is more accurately described as a "No Deal" Brexit.

I always thought we would get some sort of deal at the last minute but we appear to have been a lot closer than I would have preferred to leaving without a deal. I am very relieved that this has been averted: it would have been a very risky outcome for British business and British jobs. (It would have been bad for the EU side as well.) 

However, the "madman" strategy appears to have paid off: the deal does look like a better and more stable and sustainable one for Britain and ultimately for both sides than what was on the table a few weeks ago.

I say for both sides because what is unsustainable will not ultimately be sustained. I think we can live with this deal whereas some of the things which the EU, on their own admission at the time, were asking for  a few months or weeks ago were simply not sustainable. 

If Britain had just signed up to what was on offer a month ago in order to get a deal at any price, I think that sooner or later that deal would have been successfully challenged, but I think this deal will stand.

Carol of the day: "See Amid the Winter's Snow" (King's College Cambridge)

Quote of the day 27th December 2020


 

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Carol of the day for Boxing Day (a.k.a. the feast of Stephen) - Good King Wenceslas

Quote of the day for Boxing day 2020


 

To those for whom the Coronavirus pandemic has meant that you could see members of your family only on a Zoom call or something similar: I hope that you will all be able to see them in the flesh again soon.


Friday, December 25, 2020

The Queen's Christmas Broadcast 2020

For anyone who missed it, here is Her Majesty the Queen's Christmas broadcast this afternoon. 

As usual, Her majesty hits exactly the right note for this very difficult season, recognising the very difficult challenges we have all faced, praising those who have risem so magnificently to those challenges, and finishing with a message of hope.


A Carol for Christmas Day: "O Come, All Ye Faithful" (Adeste Fideles)

"O Come All Ye Faithful" sung at Westminster Abbey at a "Midnight Mass" service beginning late on Christmas Eve, so by the time they had reached this Carol and sang the last verse with the line "Born this happy morning," it was indeed the early hours of the morning of Christmas Day. 

Obviously this recording was made in a previous year (2013) when Westminster Abbey could be packed with people without a COVID-19 risk.

A very suitable carol for Christmas Day. And a merry Christmas to you all.

A Christmas message

For anyone reading this who is of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Bahai faiths, May the God of Abraham be with you and all who you love at this time, guard, guide and protect you.


For anyone reading this who loves the Christmas story:

  • May the Joy of the Angels,
  • The Eagerness of the Shepherds
  • The Wisdom of the Magi
  • The Patience of Joseph
  • The Love of Mary
  • and the Hope represented by the baby Jesus

be with you this Christmas season and throughout the year


For anyone reading this of any other faith, may your God be with you at this time.


And for everyone reading this, I with you and your family good health and happiness at this time and a New Year 2021 which is better than 2020 has been for any of us.




Quote of the day for Christmas Day 2020

 


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Sometimes you really can't win - part 2.

Yesterday I pointed out a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation for politicians of every party all around the world on whether they should take the vaccination against COVID-19 at an early stage and be seen to do so.

(If they do, they're accused of jumping the queue: if they don't they're not displaying leadership and proving to people that it's safe.)

Today following the signing of the Trade deal between the UK and the EU, the largest bilateral trade deal which either party has ever done, we have another example.

For the last couple of weeks, up to about yesterday night, when it looked possible that Britain would be leaving the Brexit transition period at the end of this month without a trade deal the more vocal Remain supporters and Remain supporting newspapers have been reminding us at every opportunity that during the 2016 referendum campaign practically all the senior Leave campaigners, and particularly those who are now running the government, had said how easy it would be to get a trade deal.

Well, they did indeed all say that, so it was a fair point up to yesterday, and will doubtless be brought back up if anything goes wrong with the ratification process.

What a difference a day makes.

Today we have the opposite side kicking off and making the opposite (and entirely wrong) allegation.

Now the ultra-hard-line Brexiteers who actually liked the idea of not having any trade deal with the EU and are kicking off against the deal - before, of course, any of us have had a chance to study the detail and see what it actually really says) and suggesting that it's supposedly a sell-out. And some of them are claiming that "We never voted for a deal" and reinventing history to suggest that the idea that there might be a trade deal if Britain voted leave had never been suggested.

One of them actually posted on a friend's timeline today

"Strange how nothing was mentioned about a deal before the referendum"

Wasn't listening either to his own side at the time or the other side more recently was he?

It rather reminds me of the joke which was told in both Hitler's Germany (about the time of the Night of the Long Knives) and Stalin's Russia (during his purges.) This is the Soviet version - the Nazi era German version had SA members saying things for or against Ernst Rohm. 

Three members of the party find themselves in a prison cell.

One of them asks the others, "What were you arrested for?" 

Another replies "Yesterday I was overheard saying 'It's time to sack Comrade Popov!' And you?"

The first replied "Because today I was overheard saying 'I quite like Comrade Popov!'"

They turned to the third and asked him together, "And you?"

The third man lifts his face out of his hands and they both recognise him. "Comrade Popov!" they exclaim.

Quote of the Year 2020

'The government has has done quite enough of bossing people around over the last ten months or so.'


(Prime Minister Boris Johnson responding to Harry Cole of the Sun at today's Brexit press conference, explaining why he does not want to tell Brits how to celebrate the completion of Brexit.)

Second quote of the day 24th December 2020

"Whatever you think of the prime minister, and few are indifferent, today is a moment of triumph for Boris Johnson.

When he became prime minister, he had no majority, no mandate to call his own, an angry country and an angry Parliament.

18 months, a pandemic and nothing less than a brush with death later, he has won a big majority, got the UK out of the European Union, and now done a deal with Brussels.

Some, in the coming days, will suggest it's not good enough.

Others will never be reconciled to Brexit, an idea they will forever regard as a colossal act of self harm.

Vast amounts wait to be found, no doubt, buried amid the subterranean depths of the deal document itself.

But plenty will hope this is the final giant moment in what has been a tortuous few years, combining visceral apoplexy with waves of tedium."


(BBC journalist Chris Mason today. Not often a BBC journo writes something that positive about Boris.)

The Deal is Done

PM Boris Johnson tweeted this afternoon that "The deal is done" as British and EU negotiators finally reached agreement on the new relationship between Britain and the countries of the European Union, which is the biggest bilateral trade deal either party has ever signed.



Parliament will be recalled in the next seven days and asked to ratify the deal. The EU parliament and member states will also be asked to ratify the deal, which is expected to be approved on an interim basis pending ratification so that it can come into effect when Britain leaves the transition period at the end of the year in seven days' time.

Here are some details of the deak 

Taking back control with a new deal

  • Britain has concluded our negotiations with the EU on our future relationship – and secured an excellent deal for the United Kingdom, which fully delivers on what the British people voted for both in the referendum and the last election.
     
  • As promised, this deal takes back control of our laws, borders, money, trade and fisheries – and it ends any role for the European Court. From 1st January 2021, the United Kingdom will have political and economic independence – and we will thrive as a country now fully outside the European Union.
     
  • Britain will enter the New Year as a fully sovereign nation. 2021 will be our opportunity to show what Global Britain means to the rest of the world: striking trade deals with new markets, reasserting ourselves as a liberal and free trading nation; and acting as a force for good in the world.

The agreement reached today:

  • Is based on international law, not EU law. There is no role for the European Court of Justice and no requirements for the UK to continue to follow EU law. We will be a truly independent country, with our sovereign Parliament in full control of the laws that we live by.
     
  • It is the first free trade agreement based on zero tariffs and zero quotas that the EU has ever agreed. This will be fantastic news for families and businesses in every part of the UK. Businesses will be able to continue to trade smoothly and people will be able to continue to buy goods from Europe tariff-free.
     
  • Fulfils the promise to protect and boost Britain's economy and provides for continued market access across a broad scope of key service sectors, including professional and business services. This market access will support new and continued investment between businesses. It also means that business travellers will be able to easily move between the EU and the UK for short term visits and the agreement on financial services ensures financial stability and consumer protection.
     
  • Delivers on the commitment to maintaining high labour, environment and climate standards without giving the EU any say over our rules.
     
  • Allows Britain to introduce our own modern subsidy system so that we can better support businesses to grow and thrive. This new subsides system will operate in a that best suits the interests of UK industries - outside the EU State Aid regime.
     
  • Supports the primary objective of prioritising the safety and security of the UK’s citizens. It offers streamlined co-operation on law enforcement, ensuring we continue to effectively tackle serious organised crime and counter terrorism, protecting the public, and bringing criminals to justice. It also provides for future cooperation between the UK and EU on emerging security challenges, such as cyber and health security, including continuing to work together on tackling the spread of Covid-19.
     
  • Recognises UK sovereignty over our fishing waters and puts us in a position to rebuild our fishing fleet and increase quotas, overturning the inequity that British fishermen have faced for over four decades. By the end of the five year transition we will have full control of our waters and the amount of fish available to UK fishermen will have risen from half to two-thirds.
     
  • Provides for the UK’s participation in certain EU programmes, furthering our commitment to making the UK a science and research superpower. This deal will fulfil our manifesto commitment to participate in the Horizon Europe programme, but also the Euratom Research and Training programme, and the space programme, Copernicus.
     
  • Delivers for our citizens, making our daily lives easier. It includes arrangements for airlines and hauliers that provides them with certainty, and gives people the ability to travel to and from the EU easily for work and holidays; a social security agreement that has practical benefits for UK citizens including accessing healthcare when travelling in the EU; and agreements on energy which will benefit consumers by helping to keep prices down. 
     
  • Finally, the deal delivers for the entire UK, protecting the integrity of our internal market and Northern Ireland’s place within it.


Our negotiating team has done an extraordinary job. Many people said this deal could not be done or was impossible in the time available.  We have proved those views wrong.

We have agreed the biggest trade and cooperation deal in the world, on a huge range of issues relevant to everyone in our country, in record time and in hugely challenging conditions.

Oxford/AstraZenica vaccine takes next steps towards approval

As half a million of the most vulnerable people in the UK and NHS and other key workers have had their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination against Coronavirus, the full data package for the Oxford/AstraZenica has now been submitted to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) for approval.

Obviously, and just as Prizer and BioNTech did with the first vaccine Oxford Uni and AstraZenica have been submitting data on their extensive clinical trials to MHRA as it came in, so the regulator will not be in the position of having to read through the whole dataset from the beginning before they can make a decision.

However, I presume this means that Oxford and AstraZenica think they now have the data from a complete clinical trial to prove the vaccine is safe and effective. Hopefully MHRA will be able to confirm that the data does prove this and give approval.

Another vaccine will be great news - if we have two different vaccines available there is that much less risk that either the new strain of COVID-19 recently discovered and sometimes referred to as B.1.1.7, or any other new strain of the Coronavirus, will be resistant to both. 


The Lord at First Did Adam Make (the Backhouse arrangement)

A carol for Christmas Eve: "The Lord At First Did Adam Make"

Quote of the day 24th December 2020

“Brexit work will continue throughout the night. 

“Grabbing some sleep is recommended to all Brexit-watchers at this point. It will hopefully be an early start tomorrow morning...” 

(Eric Mamer, the European Commission’s chief spokesperson, on Twitter in the early hours of Christmas Eve 2020, as hopes of a last minute agreement in the Brexit trade talks began to rise.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Sturgeon paradox

A couple of weeks ago the Spectator ran a piece by Alex Massie, featured with the front cover headline  "The Sturgeon Paradox," which asked why there seems to be an inverse correlation between the actual performance of the SNP government of Scotland and its popularity with Scottish voters - the worse they do the more popular they become.

The article gives chapter and verse on the failure of the SNP's policies on education and health. He doesn't but could, also point to their dreadful "named person" children's policy and an atrocious attitude to free speech. With regard to the coronavirus pandemic - and in repeating this point I do not wish to associate myself with any suggestion that either government has got everything wrong and nothing right - Massie also points out that all the worst mistakes made by the UK government have also been made by the Scottish government.

Yet even as voters in Scotland profess themselves deeply unhappy with services the management of which has for years been devolved to a Scottish parliament which for a decade has been run by the SNP, they continue to re-elect SNP MSPs and MPs. 

I don't pretend to be an expert on Scottish politics but it is very clear that Nicola Sturgeon has mastered one trick which may be part of the explanation. She is extremely skilled at ensuring anything in Scotland which is unpopular is blamed on the UK government while the Scottish government takes the credit for anything popular - even when this completely flies in the face of reality.

Sooner or later there will be another Scottish independence referendum. If there is a "Yes" vote the chaos which results will make Brexit look like a walk in the park.

The SNP successfully labelled the "No" campaign in 2014 as "Project Fear" and in the political environment of 2014 a campaign based on pointing out (with undoubted accuracy) the risks of independence could still succeed.

The "Leave" side was equally successful in labelling the "Remain" side in the 2016 Brexit referendum as "Project Fear" during the course of a campaign in which, frankly, both sides played fast and loose with the truth to a horrendous extent and the impact of the risks of separatism.

If humans voted purely on logic, after we have all gone through in the past four years which has shown only too clearly how difficult it is ripping up the bonds between nations,  neither the SNP or the "Yes" campaign in any referendum would get a single vote from anyone other than the hardcore nationalists for whom national sovereignty for Scotland is so important that they would prefer to be part of an independent Scotland even knowing that it would be significantly poorer than as part of the UK. Yet humans are so far from being logical that there are still many who think that Brexit has been a mess but see that as an argument for Scottish independence rather than the reverse. 

The cognitive dissonance in believing both that ripping Scotland away from the EU is a disaster for Scotland but also that ripping Scotland away from England, Wales and Northern Ireland will make Scotland better off is astonishing, but it does not appear possible to avoid the incomprehensible fact that some people really do seem to be able to hold both of these incompatible opinions.

No campaign which looks like "Project Fear" will work again in the present climate. Those of us who want the United Kingdom to continue to exist had better start preparing to make the positive case for it that "Remain" so catastrophically failed to make over Brexit.    

A 2020 Christmas jungle - Santa Claus is COVID Secure

This is very possibly the funniest thing I have seen and heard in 2020 ...

Sometimes you really can't win ...

The US democrat congresswoman Ilhan Omar has criticised fellow politicians in the States as "shameful" for being injected with the COVID-19 vaccination before all health workers have had it.

That accusation, and similar ones on this side of the pond, show only too clearly that there are times when you're damned if you do, damned if you don't and really cannot win.

If politicians, other than those who are sufficiently old to come into a high priority category of clinical need, have the vaccine at an early stage, they get accused of jumping the queue.

If they don't they get accused of failing to show leadership and demonstrate that they have confidence that the vaccination is safe and effective. Ms Omar's fellow Democrat congresswoman, and usual close ally,  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, (nicknamed AOC) chronicled her vaccination on a series of Instagram Stories and encouraged followers to ask questions about it. 

When the same charge which Ilhan Omar has been throwing around generally was aimed at AOC she replied by pointing out the problems and loss of confidence which could all too easily result if politicians appeared to be telling other people to get a vaccine they were not willing to take themselves.

For what it's worth, I am one of at least two or three holders of elected office in West Cumbria who can say that we

  1. have not taken the vaccine yet as the rollout has not worked its way down the priority list to us yet, but
  2. will take it as soon as it is offered, and
  3. have close family members working at local hospitals who have been offered and taken the vaccine in line with NCIC NHS Trust's standard practice for rolling out this vaccine (and report no adverse reactions or ill effects.)

Quote of the day 23rd December 2020

“This is the way that the politics of pandemic plays out. Even though it is untrue that new variant Covid has only been detected in the UK, it suits our neighbours to act as though this were a repetition of the BSE/CJD “mad cow” epidemic that ruined British beef farming a generation ago. 

“The fact that the first instances of the mutant coronavirus were found in Kent, England’s gateway to the Continent, strongly suggests that it did not originate in this country. The speed with which the second wave has spread elsewhere implies that this or perhaps other mutations are at work across Europe.”

“Yet surely the bigger picture is more important. The whole world now believes that the UK is a uniquely dangerous place to be, or with which to have contact, when the truth is rather different. 

“The latest death toll reported here was 215 yesterday, a 7.7 per cent rise on last week. That is worrying, but it still compares favourably with France, where the latest count was 351 deaths, or Germany, where it was 710. It is the same story with new cases and hospital admissions: the UK is at the lower end of the scale in Europe. 

“Of course this could well change, but at present we can do without the patronising sympathy of Thierry Breton, the French EU Commissioner, who said yesterday: 'It’s a tragedy what is happening in Britain.' The Commissioner should take a look at Belgium, where he is based: it has the highest rate of deaths per million in the world.

“As for the United States: its numbers, admittedly in a much larger population, have already far surpassed anything imaginable here, with around 200,000 new cases and nearly 2,000 deaths a day. The US death toll is approaching a third of a million, making it a racing certainty that Covid will kill more Americans than died in the Second World War.

“None of this is to suggest that we in this country should feel in the least complacent.”


(Daniel Johnson, extracts from a piece on The Article site about the perverse responses to the discovery of a new strain of Coronavirus. You can read the full article here.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Christmas music slot: Carols from Distington

A medley of carols - We Three Kings, Silent Night and We Wish You a Merry Christmas - played on a theatre organ by Christopher Lamb from Distington.

Gilbert Scurrah RIP

Former Copeland councillor Gilbert Scurrah died on Saturday.

Mr Scurrah represented the Millom Without Ward from 1995 until he stood down at the May 2019 elections.

Whatever else you thought about Gilbert he was completely fearless, always said exactly what he thought, and always did what he regarded as best for the people of the area he represented.

Rest in Peace.

Next stage of hospital development at WCH

Fantastic news today for health in West Cumbria with the details released of the next phase of building and development to increase capacity at West Cumberland hospital (WCH).

Building work to improve capacity in the emergency department at WCH will start early in the New Year.  The work is part of the £4 million winter funding awarded to North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust (NCIC) earlier this year and will make it possible to further develop the same day emergency care facilities on the site.   

There has been a lot of work done in recent months to improve the Emergency Departments run by NCIC, including the successful implementation of the Same Day Emergency Care model at both sites. The delivery of additional space will enable NCIC to develop this work further, by improving capacity, reducing overcrowding, and improve the overall patient experience.  

Earlier in 2020, NHS Trusts across England, including North Cumbria Integrated NHS Foundation Trust, were allocated shares of a £300 million funding package to upgrade NHS facilities ahead of winter. NCIC was awarded £4 million of which £1.75 million is being spent at West Cumberland Hospital.

Groundwork has started at the West Cumberland Hospital to prepare for the arrival of a single storey build next month. The extension will sit adjacent to the existing build and will be accessible from the current Emergency Assessment Unit as well as a separate entrance. 

This unit will encompass a procedure room, 4 clinic/assessment rooms, an infusion room with up to 6 trollies or chairs with dedicated staff base, a reception & waiting area as well as office space.  Staff rest space is also to be improved during the project after staff highlighted this during design stage.

Improvements will also be made within the main hospital, the work comprises of, the development of a Rapid Assessment & Treatment Room (RAT’s), with the Emergency Department which will enable an improved patient experience.

It is planned that these upgrades will improve patient flow within the hospital and allow the Trust to effectively reduce some of the pressure that winter brings. The development should also reduce delays for patients who attend the Emergency Department at WCH

Quote of the day 22nd December 2020

“We are eager for the expansion and development work to begin to the existing Emergency Care Floor at WCH. It will allow us to offer a much improved service to our patients and will also provide an improved working environment for our staff.”

(David Glover,  Emergency Care and medicine General Manager  at the West Cumberland Hospital, referring to the latest phase of new building work at the hospital which will start on 4th January. See next post!)

Monday, December 21, 2020

Are any Cromwell-era anti-Christmas laws still on the statute book?

With what COVID-19 has done to this year's Christmas festivities, there has been a resurgence of stories - true and false - about the supposed previous attempt to "ban Christmas" under Oliver Cromwell.

To cut a long story short, the title of this post is what John Rentoul of the Independent calls a QTWTAIN - a Question To Which The Answer Is No.

Cromwell was for a time the leader of the hardline puritan faction within parliament and effectively became military dictator of Britain on the basis of support from that faction and the military might of what started as the parliamentary army (but supported Cromwell when he sacked parliament.) There is no doubt that this faction did make some attempts to crack down on Christmas festivities.

Nor is there any doubt that these attempts reached their zenith during the period of Cromwell's military dictatorship known as the "Rule of the major-generals" when England and Wales were divided into eleven regions each subject to the control of a military commander. This could not have happened without at least acquiescence from Cromwell.

However, there is room for doubt about whether Oliver Cromwell himself was a driving force behind the attempts to "Ban Christmas" or merely went along with them to satisfy his power base. And there is no question that when it became clear that this policy was wildly unpopular, Cromwell started to back down from it. 

None of these laws and prohibitions are still on the statue book today. Those which Cromwell didn't himself remove were gleefully repealed after the Monarchy was restored in 1660 by Charles II and the "Cavalier Parliament." The process which the incoming Royalist regime milked for every last drop of propaganda value - and who can blame them - with such success that to this day Cromwell is remembered for four things: 

  • winning the civil war, 
  • beheading the King, 
  • murdering lots of Irish people (in Scotland they still remember he also killed quite a few Scots) 

        - and trying to ban Christmas.   


The first three statements are true, as is a far more serious charge than banning Christmas, that Cromwell once firmly in power abolished the very parliament and embryonic democracy that he had come to power by supposedly fighting for. But although the charge that he tried to stop people celebrating Christmas is not entirely false, the truth, as so often proves the case, is much more nuanced that popular myth would have us believe.

There is an interesting article on the subject - far too much of an apologia for Cromwell for me to entirely agree with it, but a useful corrective to the popular myths about Cromwell and Christmas - by Paul Lay on "The Article" site here.

 

Vaccination update

 


Carol of the day: The Angel Gabriel (sung by the choir of Kings College chapel, Cambridge)

Quote of the day 21st December 2020

“We have given ourselves a few more days because we think that an agreement is still possible. 

It’s hard, not sure, but worth a try."


(Clément Beaune, France’s European affairs minister, speaking at the weekend about the Brexit trade negotiations.)

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Supporting Independent Cinemas

Today the Culture Secretary has announced £16 million of grants for independent cinemas across England, helping to protect jobs across the industry and the whole of the nation.

  • The magic of film is an important part of the festive period. It’s important to help protect our independent cinemas so they’re around for many Christmases to come and protect the jobs and livelihoods they support. 
     
  • These grants will help than 200 independent cinemas across England – funded through our £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund. Hundreds of cinemas have already received funding, allocated by the British Film Institute (BFI), with another £14 million in grants becoming available in the new year as part of the second round of the Culture Recovery Fund. 
     
  • Alongside the extension of the Film and TV Production Restart Scheme, this funding will ensure the UK will continue to produce even more great content as the cinema industry recovers, keeping Britain at the forefront of the creative industries as we build back better.

EU trade negotiations

Britain's trade negotiations with the EU will shortly be coming to a conclusion after over nine months of tense talks.

  • As these talks enter the final days and hours, it is looking increasingly likely that the UK will be leaving on World Trade Organisation terms. Talks have become stuck due to unreasonable EU demands on areas such as subsidies and fisheries.
     
  • Every effort is being made to accommodate reasonable EU requests on the level playing field, but the EU are still struggling to get the flexibility needed from Member States and are continuing to make demands that are incompatible with our independence. The Prime Minister has been clear that we cannot sacrifice what it means to be a sovereign and independent nation in order to secure a deal.
     
  • If a suitable compromise cannot be reached, Britain will trade with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms from 1st January.

Coronavirus update 20th December 2020

 Last night, the Prime Minister announced new Christmas restrictions and the introduction of Tier 4 for London and the South East, in order to get this new variant of the virus under control, to protect our loved ones and protect our NHS.

  • On Friday, Nervtag Analysis revealed that the new strain of the virus is 70 per cent more transmissible and could increase the R by 0.4. Therefore, the government had to act swiftly in order to prevent it spreading to the rest of the country and overwhelming the NHS. 
     
  • From today, new tougher Tier 4 restrictions have come into place for London and the South East. Under these new restrictions:

    • You must stay at home, apart from limited exemptions set out in law.
       
    • All non-essential retail, indoor gyms and leisure facilities, and personal care services must close.
       
    • You must work from home if you can. 
       
    • You should not enter or leave tier 4 areas, and tier 4 residents must not stay overnight away from home. 
       
    • You can only meet one person from another household in an outdoor public space. 
       
    • Those in tier 4 areas will not be permitted to travel abroad. 
       
    • In England, those living in tier 4 areas should not mix with anyone outside their own household at Christmas, unless in a support bubble.
       
  • Due to the potential risk this new variant of the virus poses, it, very unfortunately, impossible to allow the relaxation of Coronavirus rules for five days over Christmas.as had been planned:

    • The Christmas rules for those not in Tier 4, will allow up to three households to meet but only on Christmas Day, not the five days as previously set out. 
       
    • There will be no relaxation on 31 December. It is very important that everyone acts responsibly over the New Year period. 
       
  • Throughout this pandemic, the government has stressed that we must and will be guided by the science - when the science changes, we must change our response. We all being asked to are sacrifice our chance to see loved ones this Christmas, so we have a better chance of protecting their lives so we can see them at future Christmases. Through our collective efforts, we will beat back this virus. We will defeat it and we will reclaim our lives.

Carol of the day: Lute-book lullaby (William Ballet)

Quote of the day 20th December 2020

"Given the early evidence we have on this new variant of the virus, and the potential risk it poses, it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned.

In England, those living in tier 4 areas should not mix with anyone outside their own household at Christmas, though support bubbles will remain in place for those at particular risk of loneliness or isolation.

Across the rest of the country, the Christmas rules allowing up to three households to meet will now be limited to Christmas Day only, rather than the five days as previously set out.

As before, there will be no relaxation on 31 December, so people must not break the rules at New Year.

I know how much emotion people invest in this time of year, and how important it is for grandparents to see their grandchildren, and for families to be together.

So I know how disappointing this will be, but we have said throughout this pandemic that we must and we will be guided by the science.

When the science changes, we must change our response.

When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defence."


(Boris Johnson, extract from Downing Street briefing yesterday)

Saturday, December 19, 2020

New stricter Tier 4 for London & South East: PM's Statement today

 The Prime Minister made the following statement at a press conference today:

 

"Good afternoon,  

I am sorry to report that the situation has deteriorated since I last spoke to you three days ago.

 Yesterday afternoon, I was briefed on the latest data showing the virus spreading more rapidly in London, the South East and the East of England than would be expected given the tough restrictions which are already in place.

I also received an explanation for why the virus is spreading more rapidly in these areas. It appears this spread is now being driven by the new variant of the virus, which we first learned about earlier this week.

Our advisory group on New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats – NERVTAG – has spent the last few days analysing the new variant.

There is no evidence the variant causes more severe illness or higher mortality, but it does appear to be passed on significantly more easily.

 

NERVTAG’s early analysis suggests the new variant could increase R by 0.4 or greater. 

Although there is considerable uncertainty, it may be up to 70% more transmissible than the old variant.

 

This is early data. It is subject to review. It is the best we have at the moment, and we have to act on information as we have it because this is now spreading very fast.

The U.K. has by far the best genomic sequencing ability in the world, which means we are better able to identify new strains like this than any other country. The Chief Medical Officer last night submitted our findings so far to the World Health Organisation and we will continue to be totally transparent with our global partners.

 

There is still much we don’t know. While we are fairly certain the variant is transmitted more quickly, there is no evidence to suggest that it is more lethal or causes more severe illness. Equally there is no evidence to suggest the vaccine will be any less effective against the new variant.

 

Our experts will continue their work to improve our understanding of the variant. So we are learning more about this variant as we go.

 

But we know enough already to be sure that we must act now. I met ministers on the Covid Operations Committee last night and again first thing this morning, and Cabinet met at lunchtime to agree the following actions.

 

1) First, we will introduce new restrictions in the most affected areas – specifically those parts of London, the South East and the East of England which are currently in tier 3. These areas will enter a new tier 4, which will be broadly equivalent to the national restrictions which were in place in England in November.

 

That means:

  • Residents in those areas must stay at home, apart from limited exemptions set out in law. 
     
  • Non-essential retail, indoor gyms and leisure facilities, and personal care services must close. 
     
  • People must work from home if they can, but may travel to work if this is not possible, for example in the construction and manufacturing sectors. 
     
  • People should not enter or leave tier 4 areas, and tier 4 residents must not stay overnight away from home.
     
  • Individuals can only meet one person from another household in an outdoor public space.

Unlike the November national restrictions, communal worship can continue to take place in tier 4 areas.

 

These measures will take effect from tomorrow morning.

 

All tiers will continue to be regularly reviewed in line with the approach previously set out, with the next formal review point taking place on 30 December.

 

2) Second, we are issuing new advice on travel.

 

Although the new variant is concentrated in tier 4 areas, it is nonetheless present at lower levels around the country.

 

We are asking everyone, in all tiers, to stay local.

 

People should carefully consider whether they need to travel abroad and follow the rules in their tier. Those in tier 4 areas will not be permitted to travel abroad apart from limited exceptions, such as for work purposes.

 

3) Third, we must, I am afraid, look again at Christmas.

 

As Prime Minister, it is my duty to take the difficult decisions, to do what is right to protect the people of this country.

 

Given the early evidence we have on this new variant of the virus, and the potential risk it poses, it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned.

 

In England, those living in tier 4 areas should not mix with anyone outside their own household at Christmas, though support bubbles will remain in place for those at particular risk of loneliness or isolation.

Across the rest of the country, the Christmas rules allowing up to three households to meet will now be limited to Christmas Day only, rather than the five days as previously set out.

As before, there will be no relaxation on 31 December, so people must not break the rules at New Year.

I know how much emotion people invest in this time of year, and how important it is for grandparents to see their grandchildren, and for families to be together. So I know how disappointing this will be, but we have said throughout this pandemic that we must and we will be guided by the science.

 

When the science changes, we must change our response. When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defence.

 

As your Prime Minister, I sincerely believe there is no alternative open to me. Without action, the evidence suggests infections would soar, hospitals would become overwhelmed and many thousands more would lose their lives.

I want to stress we are not alone in this fight – many of our European friends and neighbours are being forced to take similar action.

We are working closely with the devolved administrations to protect people in every part of the UK.

 

Of course, there is now hope – real hope – that we will soon be rid of this virus. That prospect is growing with every day that passes and every vaccine dose administered.

 The UK was the first country in the western world to start using a clinically approved vaccine.

 

So please, if the NHS contacts you then get your vaccine – and join the 350,000 people across the UK who have already had their first dose.

 

Yes, Christmas this year will be very different, but we must be realistic.

 

We are sacrificing our chance to see loved ones this Christmas, so we have a better chance of protecting their lives so we can see them at future Christmases.

 

As sure as night follows day, we will beat back this virus.


We will defeat it.

 

And we will reclaim our lives."