I write this during yet another lockdown. Given the time of year, this seems worse than before, for my own family too, and I feel for everyone who has been directly affected by the impact of Covid-19, particularly those who have lost jobs, livelihoods and loved ones. It is also a tragedy that we have passed the sad milestone of 100,000 people who have died with coronavirus in the UK. My thoughts go out to all those who are really suffering right now.
We must do everything we can to get this pandemic under control and so it was with a heavy heart that I supported this third lockdown just before Christmas. With the virus ripping out of control throughout December and with the new variant now upon us, the Government had little choice but to impose tighter restrictions. I very much hope that lockdown will be eased as soon as possible – I will continue to push hard for this to happen - and that the vaccine will be rolled out to all priority groups in record time. This is our way out of this crisis and success will mean that we can get back to normality before too long.
The Government is monitoring the situation very closely and we expect to have sufficient information by mid-February for the Prime Minister to announce a strategy to exit the cycle of lockdowns. But as ever, much will depend on medical and scientific advice as the public health comes first. It is also vital that our children go back to school as soon as possible.
We should rightly be proud that Oxford University has played such a vital role in developing the Oxford/Astra Zenica vaccine. The Government took a gamble and invested heavily in the Oxford vaccine and it has paid off. Being relatively easy to store and transport, it offers real hope, not only for us in the UK but across the world. This vaccine will also complement the Pfizer and Moderna versions, and add to the growing list of approved vaccines elsewhere.
Here in Bracknell, we have made an impressive start to vaccine roll-out and continue to press ahead, which is welcome news for all of us. It is great to see the NHS, GP surgeries, HM Forces, businesses, pharmacies and volunteers all working together to get this vital job done. I encourage you to get vaccinated as soon as possible once you are called forward but please do not pester your surgery. You will be called forward at the appropriate time.
At the end of last year, after a special sitting of the House of Commons, I was pleased to vote through the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill and thereby helped to deliver what many thought was impossible - leaving the EU with a trade deal. Whilst the outcome was always going to be something of a compromise, the deal ensures that we leave on good terms with our neighbours and enables businesses to continue to trade. It also delivers on the Brexit mandate that the Conservative Government was given in 2016, 2017 and in 2019.
So now that the Brexit boat has sailed, it is time to heal the divisions, look ahead, embrace the future and make it work. I accept of course that there have been some early glitches in trade with the EU, but these will hopefully be overcome quickly. It is also pleasing that the Department for International Trade, led by Secretary of State Liz Truss, has concluded many trade deals with countries all over the world and we can look forward with confidence to a new global Britain. Joining free trade organisations such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) will also offer exciting opportunities to build good relationships with new friends.