This Monday saw the introduction of new rules on social distancing, the rule of six. While of course we need to do everything in our power for the health of the nation and to preserve life, I am not convinced a nationwide restriction was necessary. While this is intended to provide clarity – that would have been the case had it overridden the bubble arrangements, the cause of the confusion, but it doesn’t. The number of cases in Devon have remained some of the lowest in the UK. These new rule of six changes have decimated the self-catering holiday market overnight.
Of even more concern to me is the rising number of deaths compared over a five year period – that are not Covid related. They are the result of delayed cancer diagnostic procedures and treatment and delayed diagnosis of heart problems. The health of the whole nation matters and we need to put in place better “hot” Covid and “cold” steady state treatment pathways. That is about much more than the establishment of a Nightingale hospital. While Covid diagnoses may be increasing the numbers needing hospitalisation and the numbers dying from Covid have fallen dramatically.
During Covid, businesses have fared reasonably well across Teignbridge. Almost 20,000 jobs have been protected by the furlough scheme and just under £60 million has gone to businesses via the business interruption and bounce back loan schemes. More than £21 million has been distributed to businesses in the form of business support grants. The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme has provided over £12 million to support self-employed people across Newton Abbot. One group has however disproportionately missed out - directors and sole traders who perfectly legally pay themselves through dividends instead of PAYE. I have proposed a scheme which allows such businesses to be forgiven part of their 2019/20 corporation tax bill – but the treasury are not up for it.
Whatever else happens on 31 December this year, we will have left the EU and the transition period will have come to an end. There is therefore a need for the UK to put in place rules that govern the new single market between the four countries that make up the United Kingdom. That is primarily what the Internal Markets Bill introduced into the Commons does. However, because of contradictory provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement, what happens then can be argued two ways. The EU argue the Northern Ireland Protocol takes precedence. The UK argues that the agreement to return sovereignty to the UK and respect its unity takes precedence
The Northern Ireland Protocol if implemented would put a trade barrier between mainland Britain and the island of Ireland. The effect of the protocol would be both to break up the four countries making up the United Kingdom and to keep Britain within the EU single market and subject both to the European Court of Justice and state aid rules. This clearly conflicts with other provisions within the Withdrawal Agreement which state that the UK must regain its sovereignty and that the unity of the United Kingdom as a single country must be respected and retained.
One or both parties will therefore technically it can be argued be in breach of the Withdrawal Agreement and be in breach of an international treaty. This is not unknown in international law, which is more about politics and policy than legislation. Ultimately there has to be a way out of this log jam unless a trade deal is agreed by the end of this year which is now very unlikely. It seems to me that the Withdrawal Agreement has effectively been “frustrated”, a legal term meaning it is incapable of being implemented, and is therefore no longer legally binding on either party. There will be prolonged and heated debates about this.
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