Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Newspaper column 6 January 2021 - The Brexit Trade Deal

Let me begin by wishing everyone a Happy New Year. Whilst I am sure we are all aware that we have some huge challenges to get through in the coming months, with the rollout of the new vaccine we know that we can see an end to the current situation. I have every faith that as we emerge from this crisis, we will see a return to more normal times in the coming months and we can begin to rebuild from the effects we have all felt from this pandemic. In the meantime, it is vital everyone plays their part and keeps to the restrictions in place.

Of course, we began this year with the historic deal with the EU as we left the transition phase of Brexit on 1st January. This new arrangement sets our future relationship on trade and cooperation with the EU for the years ahead.

Against all the odds, and despite being told by political opponents it could not be achieved, the Prime Minister was able to reach an agreement on Christmas Eve and the legislation required was then passed by Parliament on 30th December. It was always likely that these negotiations would be pushed to the wire and so it proved. Huge credit must go to Boris Johnson for sticking to the deadline and not extending the transition period as many were calling for him to do. I had always stated I thought a deal would be agreed but we needed to be prepared to go to the deadline with a willingness to walk away in order to get a deal that was acceptable.

Of course, the deal we reached isn’t perfect. Compromises had to be made by both sides. But crucially the agreement recognises the UK as an independent country, free from the jurisdiction of the EU courts and regulations and re-establishes our sovereignty. Our laws will now once again be made by the UK Parliament, directly elected by the people of this country who can be held to account for their decisions. This was always in my view the heart of the vote to leave the EU and I am delighted, after four and half years of struggle, to deliver on this democratic decision.

Even the most ardent Eurosceptics have accepted that this agreement delivers on the key elements needed to restore our national sovereignty. I was pleased to vote to pass this deal in Parliament in order for us to be able to leave the single market, customs union and all EU regulation from 1st January. We can now make decisions on our own laws and regulations that suit our own country rather than 27 other nations.

It is pleasing to see that the government has already used this new freedom to implement decisions we have been held back from taking by EU laws. We immediately scrapped VAT on female sanitary products, the so called Tampon Tax. This is something we have wanted to do for more than two years and while the EU were discussing allowing this they hadn’t taken action to do so. It is good to see the government implement this decision at the first opportunity.

One area where I acknowledge we did not get everything we had hoped for was on fisheries. I share the disappointment of many of our local fishermen with the immediate changes to fishing quotas and access to our 12 mile waters.

It is clear that fisheries was one of the main areas of contention in reaching agreement with the EU. Although compromises had to be made, I am pleased that the Prime Minister held out on the unreasonable demands of the EU for us to continue to allow EU vessels unrestricted access to our waters indefinitely. We are now out of the Common Fisheries Policy and have control of our waters.

What was agreed is a big step in the right directions in a 25% uplift in quota for our fleet while laying out a clear path after a 5 ½ year adjustment period for us to take back more quota. Additionally, the government has agreed to an initial £100m fund to invest in our fishing industry to enable them to gear up to be ready to handle more quota in the future.

It is important to consider in this that we will now control access to waters out to our 12 mile limit. While we have agreed to allow EU boats some access it will be on our terms. It will be by way of license which we will issue and we will be able to set the regulations and restrictions on these vessels. So although ideally we would not have allowed EU boats access at all, it is important to understand the access allowed is under our terms.

The first sign of this is that we have immediately banned pulse fishing (a method of fishing that uses electric pulses to stun fish to make them easier to catch). This is again something we have wanted to ban for some time, but was not allowed under current EU regulations. From 1st January we have taken steps to prevent EU boats from using pulse fishing in our waters. This is an important step and shows this government is prepared to use the new powers we have.

 

 

 

  

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Newspaper column 16 December 2020 - COVID-19 and Brexit updates

 

This week sees the beginning of the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine via GP surgeries, which marks another important step forward in our fight against the virus, hopefully paving the way for a return to normality next year.

This week we also have the first review of the Tier system. In Cornwall, thanks to everyone being sensible and continuing to follow the guidelines, our COVID-19 numbers are continuing to drop and remain far below the national average, so I have every hope that we will remain in Tier One following the review.

As well as the continuing developments on COVID-19, Brexit is back in the headlines as the negotiations for our post-Brexit future Trade Deal continue.

It is important to note that this is not the Withdrawal Agreement, which the Prime Minister referenced as being ‘oven ready’ and able to be agreed during the 2019 General Election campaign. The Withdrawal Agreement was indeed passed by Parliament in January, which has resulted in us leaving the EU earlier this year.

This has been deliberately misrepresented by some politicians, including the Leader of the Opposition, who have tried to say that the Trade Deal is the same as the Withdrawal Agreement. This is clearly incorrect.

The Trade Deal with the EU needs to be concluded before the end of our transition period away from the EU on 31 December.

The EU’s negotiating team has been determined to make these negotiations as difficult as possible. It seems quite clear that they are concerned that a truly free and independent UK would be highly competitive and are therefore seeking to tie us into their regulations indefinitely – the so call ‘level playing field’ conditions.

For rather obvious reasons, the EU also wants to retain access to our fishing waters. Under current rules, EU vessels have guaranteed access to our waters. And the EU quota system has been weighted unacceptably against our fishing fleets. For example, France takes 84 percent of the quota for cod in the English Channel while the UK is allowed only 9 percent.

This is clearly unacceptable to fishermen in fishing ports like Mevagissey or Newquay, and any outcome will need to recognise our nation’s sovereignty and restore our fishing fleet’s rightful place in our waters.

I am pleased that our Prime Minister has not backed down on these red lines and has remained clear that, as has always been the case, the Government will walk away without a deal if expectations are not met.

All we are seeking is a reasonable trade agreement that benefits both the UK and the EU by allowing free trade between us without tariffs or quotas. After all we are the EU’s biggest customer, with whom they enjoy a £95billion export market. Initially the EU offered the UK a free trade deal, along the lines that they had agreed with Canada, subject to agreement being reached on arrangements for the Irish border. Once we had reached agreement on this they then withdrew their offer of a ‘Canada style’ deal.

It is not unreasonable for the UK to seek similar terms to that which the EU has agreed with Canada. The EU do not demand Canada follow their rules and standards. As the UK has been a member of the EU and paid billions into their coffers it would seem reasonable for us to be granted terms at least an a par with Canada.

As I write this it has been agreed that negotiations will now continue even though there appears to still be areas of serious disagreement. But I believe the Prime Minister is right to make every effort to find a deal, whilst keeping to the principle that any deal must respect the independence and sovereignty of the UK outside the EU.

My own position remains, as it has always been that if we can secure a trade deal with the EU, then so be it, but if a no deal is agreed the we will trade on World Trade Organisation terms. I would rather that than compromise on our sovereignty, and make no mistake about it, whilst a no deal outcome would present challenges, we can overcome them and we still have a bright future as an outward looking nation, away from the EU.

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Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Newspaper column 2 December 2020

Last week was another fast moving and significant week in politics.

We had the Autumn Financial Statement from the Chancellor on Wednesday where he laid out the government’s spending plans for the coming financial year. I was pleased to see that we will continue to provide additional support for our public services, with more money announced for the NHS, schools, local government and further investment in our transport infrastructure.

Part of this announcement was the confirmation of development funding for improving railway links within Cornwall through a new Cornish Metro that would provide a direct connection between Newquay and Falmouth. The new service would run from Newquay through Par, St Austell, Truro and onto Falmouth. This would be an exciting opportunity to connect two of Cornwall’s main tourist centres and provide an economic boost for all the communities along the route as well as better connections for local residents.

There is still some way to go in order to make these proposals a reality but the award of this funding is an important step. It shows that the government recognises the potential of this route and the funding will enable more details plans to now be produced to take it to the next level.

As well as the spending review, the big news last week was the announcement of the new tiered system for the next phase of our fight against the Coronavirus. The new tiers had been well trialled but the big news on Thursday was confirmation that Cornwall will be returning to the lowest level of restrictions in Tier 1. Along with the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight, Cornwall will be one of only three areas of England in Tier 1 and the only one on the mainland.

This is clearly very welcome news for us locally, and particularly for local hospitality businesses who will be able to reopen under the lowest level of restrictions in the important period running up to Christmas.

As welcome as this news is, it really does need to be understood by us all that there is no room for complacency. Before we entered the national restrictions at the start of November Cornwall was in Tier 1. But at that time we were seeing the number of cases increase. This has now been brought back under control which does show that the restrictions worked and this was the right action to take. However, the tier we are in will now be reviewed regularly and if it is necessary this can be changed in order to keep the spread of the virus under control. Therefore, it is vital that everyone keeps to the rules, follows the guidance and behaves responsibly to ensure we can remain in Tier one.

With Cornwall being the only place in mainland England in Tier 1 I do understand the concerns many have raised with me concerning the potential of people from other areas of the country coming to stay Cornwall in the coming weeks. I appreciate the concern this may cause to some people.

I do think there are a number of key points that we need to consider to keep this matter in context. Firstly the government has been clear that people who are living in the very highest risk areas, Tier 3, should not travel outside of their area. It is also clear that those living in Tier 2, whilst they are permitted to travel, are legally required to keep to the Tier 2 rules whilst they are here.

It is also worth noting that despite having literally millions of visitors in Cornwall since the lockdown was lifted in July, this has not contributed to a rise in cases. In fact whilst the biggest number of visitors were here in the summer, the number of cases continued to fall. The increase we saw in the autumn was primarily linked to workplace setting, including those travelling to places such as Plymouth for work. There is no evidence that tourists have had an impact on the number of cases in our Duchy.

Providing those who may come stick to the rules, keep within their household groups or bubbles and behave responsibly, which the vast majority do, there is no real cause for concern.

I appreciate the coming weeks will continue to be challenging for us all. But we can see the light at the end of all this as we make further progress on seeing a vaccine that is safe and effective being available. So my plea is, despite whatever our frustrations and concerns, let us all continue to do our bit to keep ourselves, and those around us safe, whilst enjoying the relaxation in the rules here in Cornwall.   

 

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Newspaper column 11 November 2020 - More support against COVID-19

 

Last weekend I was honoured to attend the Act of Remembrance at the War Memorials in Newquay and St Austell. The ceremonies were very different than normal this year due to the current restrictions to protect us from the spread of Coronavirus. However, it was right that we continued to mark this important date in our civic life by paying our respects to those who died in the defence of our country and show our thanks to those who continue to serve in our Armed Forces.

The events were well organised and I am very grateful the Royal British Legion and our Town Councils for their work in organising them.

I was very pleased with the further announcements from the government of additional support for businesses, workers and families during this new period of national restrictions.

The Chancellor announced on Thursday that the furlough scheme would be extended until March and the government would be covering up to 80% of wages for eligible staff. I know this has been welcomed by many local businesses as it will enable them to keep their staff on over the winter.

The Chancellor also announced a further round of support for self-employed people, with another three month payment of up to 80% of average income available. As we enter the winter I know this will be a vital means of support for many locally.

There will also be another round of business grants available with up to £3,000 available to those businesses that have been told to shut for the next four weeks. In addition to this Cornwall Council will be receiving over £5million for a further discretionary grant fund. This will be available for them to use to support local businesses and the economy through the winter. I certainly hope they will ensure these funds are used wisely to best support our local businesses, who although not forced to close will be severely affected by the new restrictions.

The other big announcement at the weekend was for more funding to help families through the coming months. £170million was made available nationally that will go to local councils to be used to support families most in need over the winter. It has been confirmed that £1.8million of this fund will be coming to Cornwall.

I am pleased to see the government delivering on their commitment to support families and that no child should go hungry this winter. Following the recent political storm regarding the decision to not extend free school meals into the school holidays I made it clear I believed there was a better way and that I would be pressing the government for more funding to be made available.

This additional money will be very welcome, and I hope that Cornwall Council will use it to ensure that it gets to those who need it most. This is not just those families who qualify for free school meals, as there are many families who do not qualify, for a number of reasons, who still require support at this time.

Finally, I know that the coming weeks will once again be a tough time for many locally. As always, my office team and I are here to help. If you need advice, guidance or help in any please do not hesitate to get in touch. You can email me at office@stevedouble.org.uk or call 01726 829379 and we will do what we can to help.

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Newspaper column 4 November 2020 - New lockdown measures and Remembrance Sunday

Clearly the big news of the past week was the announcement of new national measures to fight the spread of the Coronavirus.

I know this will come as a big disappointment to many of us in Cornwall where, although rising, the number of cases remain the lowest in the country. It is clear the government has done everything it could do avoid having to new national restrictions. However, the reality of the figures showed that although we are starting from a low level, the number of cases in Cornwall was increasing at a faster rate than the rest of the country. Regrettably, we needed to act now to avoid the risk of Cornwall being in the same position as parts of the North West which were seeing hospital admissions at similar levels to that of the Spring. Particularly with our population in Cornwall being more elderly and therefore in greater danger, this was not something we could risk.

 I appreciate this will be another difficult time for us all, economically, mentally, and socially. I will be doing everything I can to ensure we get the support we need and will also be seeking assurances from the government that we will be released from these new restrictions at the earliest opportunity when it is safe to do so.

As we enter another time of having to limit our lives for the national good, the fact that it is Remembrance Sunday this weekend is a timely reminder of the struggles of past generations. As tough and challenging as this year has been for us, it is still nowhere near as challenging as the struggles of those that lived through the war years.

Over the past months I have often thought to myself that comparing our struggles this year to those that lived through the war years does help us keep things in perspective. Throughout our history our nation has faced difficult times for a variety of reasons. We have always risen to the challenge, pulled together and got through it. I am sure this time will be no different.

This Sunday does provide us all with the opportunity to remember all those of previous generations who paid a price for us to be free today. Although we are all experiencing restrictions on our freedoms for a short while, it can help to remind us what it is those generations were fighting for.

Clearly events this Sunday will be very different to usual. We will not be able to have the big parades and church services of remembrance. I will be laying a wreath in both Newquay and St Austell in what will be a quiet and low-key act of remembrance along with the Mayor and representatives of the Royal British Legion. Although it will be disappointing not to be able to have the all the crowds, and we will particularly miss the armed forces veterans and the cadets, in some ways a low key event will seem more fitting to the current situation.

I do hope that all of us though will take a moment on Sunday, and indeed next Wednesday on Armistice Day, the 11th November, to quietly remember, pay our respects and show our gratitude to the fallen. 

With each passing year those who are still with us that lived through the last World War become fewer and it is so important that as the living memory of those times passes we continue to ensure that each new generation is aware of the price that was paid and values the freedom we have.

It is also vital we continue to support the Royal British Legion and the vital work they do in supporting our veterans. Many of their usual means of fundraising have been restricted this year so I do hope we will all do what we can to buy and wear a poppy and donate to their work.

Finally, perhaps more than any other year this year we have reason to be grateful to those who currently serve in our armed forces. Often, their work is hidden from us in far away places as they serve our country in a multitude of ways to keep us safe – sometimes in ways we never get to hear of. But this year we have seen some of the vital work they do in the service of our country as they have played a central role in the fight again Coronavirus. Whether it has been building the Nightingale Hospitals, manning testing centres or helping with distributing PPE, they have provided vital support to the NHS during this year. So as well as remembering and respecting those who have fallen and served at times of war in the past, let us also show our gratitude to those who serve us today.


Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Newspaper column 7 October 2020 - Health and COVID-19 update

 

We continue to see the number of confirmed cases of Coronavirus increase, locally and nationally. The number of cases in Cornwall continues to follow the national trend of cases rising. However, much of the increase in cases across Cornwall can be identified as due to a small number of clusters centred around very specific businesses.

It is important that everything possible is done to ensure Public Health England is able to identify these outbreaks and all necessary steps taken to isolate those with the virus. I am confident this is happening.

We continue to learn more about how this virus is spread and how we can control it. It is clear that certain businesses, particularly those in the food processing industry, appear to have higher risks of outbreaks. We have seen this elsewhere in the country and this is now the case here in Cornwall.

Whilst we have seen an increase in cases, Cornwall continues to be one of the least affected parts of the country. The level of cases here is well below that of most other areas and we are still some way off facing the additional local restrictions that other areas have had put in place. 

Whilst we all need to continue to play our part in behaving responsibly to keep ourselves and others safe. We need to get back on top of this second wave so that we can avoid Cornwall having to have additional restrictions.

The government continues to work to enable us all to return to life as normal. Every effort continues to be made to produce an effective vaccine and for widely available fast testing to be in place. Either of these would enable restrictions to be eased.

We are very much aware that we are all now on the countdown to Christmas. It is hoped we will be in a position to ease restrictions by Christmas to enable families to be able to enjoy the festivities together in as normal way as possible. We understand how important this will be at the end of what has been a challenging and traumatic year for us all and one way or another we will do everything possible to achieve this.

Along side our continued fight against the virus, it was good to see last week the government confirm further investment in the NHS. It was great to see the list of the 40 new hospitals that will be built across the country – with funding secured. This was a key commitment we made at the last election and it was pleasing to see this promise being delivered just a few months later.

A new Women and Children’s unit at Treliske, that will include a new, modern maternity facility. This is something that was planned previously but the government has been able to bring this forward and enable it to be built well ahead of schedule.

This £100million investment is in addition to the £450million that has been committed to upgrade hospital facilities across Cornwall. The new Women and Children’s unit will be the first of what will be a number of very significant new and upgraded health facilities in the coming years.

Along with the other Cornish MPs I am working with NHS leaders in Cornwall to ensure this large pot of money is spent in the best way possible that will provide major improves for people across Cornwall.

Like many people I believe at least part of this funding should be used to provide hospital facilities in Mid-Cornwall that will take pressure off of Treliske. I also want to see improvements to our local community hospitals so that more health services are able to be provided locally to save patients having to travel to Truro.

All of this should be achievable, and I will continue to do all I can to shape the plans that come forward to get the very best outcome for our constituency and Cornwall generally.

Finally, with the new restrictions that have been put in place recently, I have taken the decision to suspend face to face surgeries for the immediate future. However, I am still always happy to talk to any constituents who would like my help or to raise any concerns with me. We can do this on the telephone or by video link. Please get in touch with my office if you would like to arrange a time for a call – tel. 01726 829379. Email – office@stevedouble.org.uk  

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Newspaper column 30 September 2020- Autumn Covid-19 news

As the COVID-19 cases around the country continue to rise it was only right that last week the Prime Minister announced revised restrictions to help us all in the fight against this virus over the coming months.

As we move into autumn and winter, where viruses are transmitted more easily for a variety of reasons, it is not surprising that we are seeing these restrictions, which include a 10pm curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants, a return to focussing on home working where possible, and further limits on social gatherings, sporting events and guests at weddings, combined with tougher fines for people who break the rules.

I appreciate that these measures will be tough to follow but the alternative, given the increased number of cases we are seeing, would be more deaths and an even more restrictions, which no one wants to see.

The autumn and winter months also give rise to the traditional flu season. Research highlighted by Public Health England last week suggests the risk of death more than doubled for people who tested positive for both flu and COVID-19, compared to those with COVID-19 alone.

Adults at high risk from flu are also most at risk from COVID-19. As such the free flu vaccine is more important than ever to help protect the nation from a double threat this winter, and is something I would encourage everyone who is eligible to get.

Because of the COVID-19 pressures, this year, the flu vaccine programme is being expanded to  new groups, including Year 7 children and people aged 50-64, who will be offered the vaccine once the most at risk categories have had it, to help protect people from flu and ease pressure on the NHS and urgent care services.

In all, our health system this year is working to provide the free flu vaccine to 30 million people, the highest number on record.

Continuing the further support for those impacted by COVID-19, last Thursday the Chancellor announced the Winter Economy Plan – the next phase of the Government’s planned economic response to coronavirus.

This includes the Job Support Scheme, which directly funds businesses to protect these viable jobs and people’s wages, rather than laying employees off through a difficult winter. To ensure parity between employees and self-employed, the Government is also providing a grant extension for self-employed small businesses who used the existing self-employed income support scheme.

The announcement also included actions to minimise the strains on companies’ cashflows so they can focus their resources on supporting employment. This included an extension to the temporary VAT cut to Spring 2021 will support vulnerable hospitality and tourism businesses, something  which I have been lobbying the Government for, including the Tourist Minister in person when he visited Newquay and the Eden Project earlier in September. This will have a big positive impact for many of our businesses in Cornwall.

We continue to live through challenging times but I am certain that by all playing our part and following the rules, as well as through continued strong support from the Government, we will get through this together.

During these difficult times, my office team and myself will continue to do all we can to provide support, advice, and answer any questions you may have. So if you feel we can help please do get in touch. Email office@stevedouble.org.uk or call us on 01726 829379.