Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.
The one thing Britain and the EU are united on is that they both want a deal – but not at any cost.
As I write, we seem to be no nearer a deal with the EU now than we were a week ago. Neither side seems willing to move on any of the three main areas of contention.
So in retrospect, I am not sure what the point of the dinner on Wednesday night was. If, after, four and a half years the EU doesn’t understand what our bottom line is, I’m not sure a three hour conversation over a Turbot was going to change anything.
It’s clear that the EU does not appreciate what being a sovereign country means, and if they don’t understand it now, they probably never will. I’ve always approached these talks from the premise that sensible people will, in the end, come to a sensible deal, which is satisfactory to both sides. That’s what happens in the real world.
Or at least it used to. Yes, you get to the last minute of the last hour, and there’s a great deal of brinkmanship involved, but you get there in the end.
But sadly, at the moment, it looks difficult to see a pathway to a deal. There is a minority of Brexiteers which actively wants No Deal. I’ve never been one of them. However, I can’t deny that the devil in me – or perhaps the journalist in me – will be fascinated to see what happens if it comes to pass.
All sorts of doom-mongers will predict that we will go to hell in a hand cart, just as they did when we didn’t join the Euro. My instinct – and that is all it is – is that in the medium term the UK will become a massive success, but I can’t prove it. In the meantime, it’s going to be a very bumpy ride indeed.
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I was interested to see that in the last League Table of Cabinet Ministers, in which the ConHome panel of Party members, Liz Truss emerged as the top rated minister.
Over the last year, she has kept a much lower profile than usual, and quietly got on with her job of reaching trade agreements with other countries. And on Wednesday, Singapore became the 22nd country to reach a post Brexit trade deal which will come into effect on January 1st.
Truss has confounded Remainer critics who insisted that no more than a handful of countries would be prepared to roll over their EU trade agreements. Expect quite a few more to be signed over the next few weeks, but most of the bigger ones have already been done.
One statistic which I wasn’t aware of is that the 40 different agreements we were part of as EU member states accounted for only 11 per cent of our total trade. Add this to the 44 per cent of our trade we do with the EU, and you can see that 45 per cent of our trade is conducted with countries under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation – and 40 per cent of that is with the United States.
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A word of praise for whoever organised the Comms on Tuesday for the first vaccinations. I’m told it was all handled by NHS England, and they did a fantastic job.
The pictures from Coventry hospital told their own story. They weren’t intrusive, and the elderly people interviewed said exactly the right things to encourage us all to get the vaccination.
It was a lovely touch for the first man to be vaccinated to be William Shakespeare from Warwick. I almost expected him to look at the camera and say: ‘my vaccine, my vaccine, my kingdom for a vaccine’.
I also want to issue a word of praise for Nadhim Zahawi, the newly appointed Minister for Vaccine Deployment. The rollout of the vaccine programme is one of the most difficult logistical challenges which any government has faced outside of wartime.
His role will no doubt be to unblock any bottlenecks, and occasionally knock a few heads together. He’s been one of the unsung heroes of Conservative governments since the days of David Cameron. Quite how he is still only a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State is a mystery.
He’s always been a minister who Downing Street can count on not to drop a bollock, and I have dubbed him the ‘Minister for Sticky Wickets’. If there’s any justice in this world, he ought to be a sure fire bet for promotion in the forthcoming reshuffle. I wouldn’t bet against him going straight into the Cabinet as Business Secretary.