UK market, not the EU, is what is most important for Scotland - Michael Gove
This has been one of the toughest years most of us can remember. The Covid pandemic has been a cruel enemy, bringing pain and suffering to every corner of our country. But as 2020 ends there is hope. Governments across the UK have worked together to contain the disease. And the vaccines being rolled out now promise a release from the virus's grip.
There is also a renewed reason to look ahead to 2021 with optimism now we have secured a comprehensive trade deal with our friends in the EU.
As a Scot, I've been determined that the deal this Government has reached recognises Scotland’s distinct contribution to the United Kingdom.
This is a deal that works for Scotland’s fishermen, farmers and distillers; for our scientists and manufacturers, our exporters and those in financial services. It also gives us the chance to do things differently, and better, for all our citizens. We can bring growth back to our coastal communities, support our energy sector better as it adjusts to a zero-carbon world and establish Freeports as magnets for international investment.
This deal is the only one the EU has signed with another country where there are no tariffs or quotas on any goods, nor any requirement to follow EU rules. That means we can provide cash support for industries, develop new ways of supporting our farmers and invest in new opportunities for our universities without EU laws stopping us. And we have also ensured we're outside the Common Fisheries Policy, with more of our own fish landed in our own ports and control over who comes into our territorial waters.
I grew up in Aberdeen, with my father running a fish processing business, so I know how vital it was for our negotiators to carry on to the last possible moment on the last possible day to secure the best possible deal not only for our catching sector, but the industry as a whole.
Where at present British fishermen are entitled to around half the fish in our waters, in 2026 they will be taking two thirds of our marine wealth – a sizable uplift. And in the meantime, during the period of transition agreed with the EU for both sides to adjust to the scale of the change, there will be a gradual increase in the amount of fish we are entitled to take.
We will use the time to invest in the UK fleet and our communities, to make sure they can take full advantage of the riches flowing back to us, and to build a sustainable industry and healthy stocks. I am delighted to say that details of a major funding package will be announced in the very near future.
And the good news extends also to our processing plants in Scotland, which can carry on doing business with the EU and elsewhere, and to our shellfish exporters, which can continue to trade with our European neighbours unfettered by tariffs.
What about trade within the UK internal market? That is vital for the whole of Scotland. Scotland trades more than three times as much with the rest of the UK than with the rest of the world combined, which is why the UK Government is legislating to make sure there are no barriers for Scottish companies that do business in other parts of the UK. The UK is the market that matters most to Scotland, worth over £55billion a year, and we will protect it.
As with any negotiation, there have been some compromises. We have not, however, given way on our sovereignty and are in complete control of our own destiny – free to pursue bold policies, like the points-based immigration system that has already gone live, and to maintain our high labour, environment and climate standards without being constrained by the EU.
We can target our money where it is most needed, in Scotland and across the UK. As we set about creating a pro-growth, greener and outward-looking economy, we will open up access to new markets and support businesses in a targeted way with a modern subsidy system that enables industry in Scotland to grow and thrive.
The best of both worlds means we can take a bold leading role on the global stage while working closely with our nearest neighbours. 2021 will be our opportunity to show what Global Britain means to the rest of the world: chairing the G7; hosting COP26 – the world’s biggest summit on climate change – in Glasgow; striking trade deals with new markets; reasserting ourselves as a liberal and ambitious trading nation.
And in the single biggest transfer of powers in history to the devolved administrations, as the EU structures fall away at the end of this year, Edinburgh – as well as Cardiff and Belfast – will take back control from Brussels in key areas, in a fantastic boost for democracy in each nation of the UK.
On a range of environmental issues, including air quality, protecting the marine environment, promoting biodiversity, setting energy efficiency targets and managing flood risk; on public procurement, and on food standards and labelling – voters will find their interests represented at local level by directly elected and accountable politicians.
We had a taste of these regained freedoms when we became the first country in the world to licence a COVID-19 vaccine earlier this month. By December 20, nearly 57,000 people in Scotland had benefited from their first dose of Pfizer’s ground-breaking protection, and the scale and speed of the immunisation programme offers the real prospect that we can, as the Prime Minister says, begin to ‘reclaim our lives’ in 2021.
For all of us, it is a beacon of hope in our journey back to normality – and a powerful symbol of how a quick, nimble and agile UK can take advantage of change to improve people’s lives.
The UK Government is buying the vaccines for the whole UK and working closely with the Scottish Government to get them into the hands of our incredible NHS staff as soon as humanly possible: operating as ‘Team UK’, as has been the pattern throughout the pandemic.
Thanks to our integrated national health service, the close links between health Trusts in England and the 14 health Boards in Scotland, and frequent engagement between ministers in the UK and Scottish governments, the process was accelerated and patients protected faster.
With the trade deal, that’s two global firsts for our United Kingdom in the month of December alone – major milestones on the biggest issues to have dominated 2020 around the world. Whether on COVID or Brexit there is a great deal of work still to be done, but these are nonetheless brilliant breakthroughs.
Some of the work still to be done involves final preparations for our departure from the single market and the customs union at the end of the transition period next week, on December 31. This is still the case, even with the trade deal agreed. Most businesses that trade with the EU need to take broadly the same actions and the Government stands ready to help with the adjustment to the new systems and processes coming in on January 1. There is plenty of advice at www.gov.uk/transition and I urge you to check if there is anything still left for you to do in the time available.
For the whole UK, January 1 also marks the beginning of a new chapter in our national story. With effective weapons against COVID-19 and Brexit finally delivered, my wish for the New Year is that we bottle this national spirit and take it with us into 2021 – to seize and make the most of the fantastic benefits and opportunities that await all parts of the UK.
Michael Gove is the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.