As we embark on a new year we reflect on the highs and lows of the year behind us.
2020 had too many lows – too many deaths and periods of illness from Covid, and too many redundancies and lost opportunities for economic growth.
But we have been steadfast in our belief in the wisdom of the British people to get Brexit done and to face the global challenge of Covid as a sovereign…. Global Britain.
This Government’s historic Trade and Co-operation Agreement with the European Union has ensured that 2020 ended on a high for our future relations with our nearest friends and allies, whilst opening up a world of new opportunities as a sovereign, independent nation.
Many said it was an impossible task to complete a trade deal with the extra challenges we faced last year. The opposition called yet again for an extension. They wanted to delay the moment when Britain finally became a fully independent, sovereign nation with full power over its laws, its borders, its money and trade, even though further delay meant more uncertainty and damaged future investment.
Businesses – not least in the ceramics and wider manufacturing industries of Stoke-on-Trent – had been calling for certainty in our future trading relations with the EU – which, for most, remains our largest single export market.
I am delighted that the Government has delivered the tariff-free access that we all wanted to see continue – and that the Department for International Trade has secured new and rollover trade deals with many more countries beyond the EU – particularly the excellent deal with Japan.
Indeed, whilst others were trying to hold us back, this Government has secured 64 new trade deals, invested unprecedented levels of funding in our public services and in research – and provided billions of pounds of financial support to individuals and businesses as the nation faced an uncertain future. Global Britain led the way on developing, licensing and rolling out the first vaccines.
Now, as we emerge from the global pandemic, there is heightened awareness that we have to resolve the underlying issues that Covid has highlighted. The vulnerable and the disadvantaged have suffered disproportionately, and the impact of health inequalities on the capacity of the NHS has been manifest.
2020 was a watershed. We will build back better, and we will build back fairer. Levelling up has never been more important. And the Prime Minister knows this in his bones. I was delighted that he made the time to take a virtual tour of Stoke-on-Trent Central, courtesy of a video produced by the brilliant and talented students of Stoke-on-Trent College. I am so glad their work had its chance to shine at the highest level of Government. The Prime Minister’s verdict was that “the future of the Stoke economy is going to be gangbusters”. And it is the pupils of our colleges and schools and our local University who deserve that future, and many more opportunities to shine.
We know that talent is evenly spread across the country, but opportunity is not, and together with investment in education, skills, jobs and our physical infrastructure, I know that the focus of investment in communities like Stoke-on-Trent Central must include building the social infrastructure that underpins opportunity, regardless of your background.
Our new status as a sovereign, independent nation will ensure we can capitalise on our entrepreneurial, innovative, and open spirit. As we sail into unchartered waters we can set our own course. We can speak to the world with our own voice.
Our commitment to a green industrial revolution to tackle climate change and deliver net zero; developing strategies to reduce obesity; ensuring high food and leading animal welfare standards; creating the right economic environment to stimulate private investment to maximise economic growth. This is what will typify Global Britain.
2021 will be the year of building back….and as we do so we will heal the wounds of the last four years since the referendum. A global pandemic has highlighted our common humanity. We have all been moved by the acts of kindness of strangers and reminded of what really matters in life. Community and a shared sense of wellbeing.
This will be the year of new beginnings – a new relationship with the European Union, new global partnerships, global environmental leadership at COP26, the presidency of the G7 and renewed commitment to levelling up as we deliver new opportunities across every region of our country.