Constituency matters… a weekly column by the Member of Parliament for Folkestone and Hythe, Damian Collins 30 December 2020.

On Christmas Eve the Prime Minister announced that the government had successfully negotiated a deal with the European Union on our future trading relationship. This will be debated in parliament on 30th December, so that it can be ratified before the end of 2020.

The deal delivers on the commitment made at the general election last year, that we would leave the EU and take back control of our laws, borders, money, trade and operate as an independent country outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. The Agreement firmly and explicitly recognises UK sovereignty over our fishing waters and puts us in a position to rebuild our fishing fleet and increase quotas in the next few years

This is also the first free trade agreement negotiated by the EU to be based on zero tariffs and quotas. UK businesses will be able to continue to trade smoothly with the EU and buy goods from Europe tariff free.

I hope this will now mark the start of a new relationship between the UK and the EU, where instead of focusing on the things we disagree on, we can instead look towards future areas of mutual support and co-operation, as independent neighbours with many common interests.

We will also be able to take advantage in 2021 of the new freedoms we will have outside of the EU and European Single Market. Things will be different, and you can find out more information about how being outside of the EU will affect you and or your business at the government website gov.uk/transition.

In the days before Christmas I attended a series of meetings with government Ministers and officials to discuss the delays to traffic being able to leave the country to travel to Europe.

As 80% of the road freight that passes between the UK and the continent travels across the Dover straits, stopping that movement for 48hours inevitably creates a severe backlog of thousands of lorries.

Firstly, I would like to thank the police, our public services, armed forces, and the staff at Eurotunnel and the Port of Dover, for everything they did to support those people who had been left stranded in Kent and unable to complete their journeys home. Thanks to this effort we were able to provide food and facilities to those who needed it, whilst a massive covid testing effort was set up to allow people with a negative result to make their journey across the Channel. Kent Police also activated the Operation Brock contingency planning for the post Brexit period in January, which meant queuing lorries could be held off road at Manston Airport.

The deployment of the quick moveable hard barrier on the M20 between junction eight and nine, on the London bound carriageway meant it was possible to keep the motorway open to traffic travelling in both directions on that stretch of road, whilst the coastbound route was closed to allow lorries to queue there. These measures reduced the impact of these delays on local communities much more than would have been the case using the traditional Operation Stack system.

The situation before Christmas was also harder to deal with than is usually the case, not just because of the need to test passengers for COVID-19, but that rather than there being delays to people crossing to France, we had two days when no travel was permitted at all.

By Ed