COVID ruined 2020 for most of us, especially the 70,000 families who lost loved ones, writes Neil Coyle
Many deaths were avoidable if the government had acted swiftly and followed the science. Sadly, ministers delayed decisions leaving families and our economy to pay the price. The UK has spent more, but has the highest excess death toll and worst economic damage of any European country.
Ministers will no doubt try to avoid a public inquiry into how they mishandled the COVID response, not least as they try to keep secret the contracts they signed which paid millions to their friends for services that were not delivered. Our NHS and other frontline heroes deserve to know the truth about delays and faulty PPE for example, especially as we still see rising infections and hospitalisations in Southwark and across the country.
We also enter 2021 weakened by the downgrade deal signed by the government. Eighty per cent of our economy and jobs were not covered by this sham and the other 20 per cent face new costs and customs checks and delays to trade. The deal neglected to cover security which also means terrorists trying to enter the UK who would have been identifiable under intelligence sharing on New Year’s Eve 2020 could access our borders in January unnoticed. This potentially leads to far greater dangers to the UK.
The United Kingdom also faces risks in the rise of Scottish nationalism, dividing our country further, as well as a new border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The absurdity is that a dog owner in Belfast can now take their pet to Berlin, Budapest or Bulgaria, but not Birmingham!
UK people’s rights, security and our economy are downgraded by this deal and Theresa May has highlighted that her 2017 deal was better than the one sycophants in the Tory Party tripped over to back a year after Johnson told us Brexit was done in his ‘oven-ready’ lie.
Ironically, the deal concludes nothing. Much of it focuses on the need for further negotiations, including annually on fish quotas. It insists on new negotiations in 2024 which means the debate continues. 2021 will see more discussion of Europe, not less. My role will be speaking up for Southwark people and businesses and improving the deal from its paltry start point.
2020 was extremely challenging but I also had some successes for our community. I helped fix Government loopholes to ensure businesses in Southwark could access funding to cover COVID costs. I helped Southwark cultural institutions access over £7 million in recovery grants. I gained government backing for an amendment to guarantee rights to housing for anyone fleeing domestic abuse. I successfully campaigned to abolish VAT on digital books. I helped win the extension of ‘PrEP’ to prevent HIV transmission. I also worked with the wine and spirits trade association to stop the Government imposing new import forms which would have hit wine prices for all buyers. Not a bad haul of results from the opposition backbenches!
It has also been my joy to work closely with our community in response to COVID. The volunteering of time, items and money to help others through this crisis has been wonderful to witness and does Southwark proud. We are not through this yet though; please keep up the incredible efforts. We cannot have a happy and successful 2021 if people do not continue taking precautions and looking out for one another until we have all had the vaccine.