Constituency matters… a weekly column by the Member of Parliament for Folkestone and Hythe, Damian Collins.
This week the government has reviewed the tiers in England for the COVID-19 social contact restrictions. Not only is Kent staying within tier 3, but the whole of London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire have been included as well. I know that this will be disappointing for very many people who would have hoped that after the national lockdown and two weeks of the highest-level local restrictions we would be seeing an improvement. Sadly, this situation continues to worsen.
The highest levels in the county, in terms of the numbers of newly confirmed coronavirus infections each day, remain along the north Kent coast. The Department for Health also believes that there is a new variant of COVID-19 in the south east of England which may spread more quickly than before, and might be one of the reasons why this part of the country is seeing the highest levels of coronavirus infection.
Changes to COVID are not unusual within a pandemic and will not affect the roll-out of the vaccine, which attacks the protein at the heart of the virus and is unaffected by these changes. The covid vaccinations continue from Kent hospitals and will now be offered by some GP surgeries as well. Mass community testing for COVID is also being extended throughout all tier three areas, and a drive-in facility is now available in Folkestone. You can find out more about where you can receive your test when you apply. There is more information about this on the Kent and Medway NHS website kentandmedwayccg.nhs.uk
The government is in the final stages of negotiating our trading relationship with the European Union, following our departure from the EU at the beginning of this year. Whatever the result of these talks, we will no longer be a member of the European Single Market on 1st January 2021.
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It’s in everyone’s interests that we have a free trade agreement in place with the EU, and there are already mechanisms that have been agreed upon to provide independent arbitration should there be a future dispute. It cannot be right that the body to adjudicate on disagreements would be the European Court, nor that the EU could immediately and arbitrarily impose trade sanctions on the UK for not following changes to the rules of the Single Market, regardless of whether or not such a divergence was likely to have a material impact on trade. The Prime Minister has pledged that he will work up to the end of the negotiating period to secure the right deal for the UK.
If following the 1st January, changes to the customs arrangements between the UK and EU lead to some delays in road freight leaving the country, the government has put infrastructure in place to manage this. Unlike with the previous Operation Stack measures on the M20, should it be required to close the motorway coastbound between junctions 8 and 9 (between Maidstone and Ashford) to accommodate queueing lorries, a central barrier will be deployed on the London bound carriageway to create a two-way contraflow system.
This means two-way traffic will be maintained on the motorway, even if the restrictions are put in place. Also, unlike with Operation Stack in the past, provision has been made for other off-road holding areas for freight. I hope these provisions will not be needed, but if they are then we are better prepared for such delays than in the past.