BORIS JOHNSON: Brexit helped us bounce back from Covid

BORIS JOHNSON: Brexit helped us bounce back from Covid – now we’ll go faster with our freedoms and make it easier to get rid of retained EU law

Two years after we left the EU we have all kinds of reasons to celebrate our new freedoms. We are doing some very big things. We have taken back control of our money, our borders and our laws. We have done more than 60 free trade deals.

We are out of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy, and all the vexation and delay of EU procurement rules. We are delivering free ports.

We are also making a vast host of relatively smaller reforms. We have cut VAT on tampons. We are cutting air passenger duty on flights within the UK.

We are finally able to repeal the infamous Vnuk ruling of the European Court of Justice, so that you don’t have to pay so much to insure a motor mower or a motorised wheelchair.

We can pass our own laws against cruelty to animals and we have brought back blue passports and crown stamps on pint glasses.

And then there is one thing we have been able to do that has immediate and far-reaching consequences.

Pictured: Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Brexit has helped the UK bounce back from Covid

Look around you. There are people without masks, and tourists coming back to Britain, and people going about their business in the G7’s fastest growing economy.

We have more people on payroll employment – about 420,000 – now than when the pandemic began. Youth unemployment is at record lows.

When I went out with the dog at Chequers for my morning run, I saw the contrails of eight or nine planes over Buckinghamshire – all at once. You didn’t see that in lockdown.

The UK is coming out of Covid faster than virtually any other European country.

That is because we had the fastest vaccine rollout and the fastest booster rollout of any major European economy.

We were the first country in the world to license a vaccine. We were the first to get it into the arm of a patient.

And that was at least partly because of Brexit. We were only able to do so because we chose to forge our own path as an independent United Kingdom.

We chose to procure our own vaccines rather than sign up to the slower EU scheme. And we chose to accelerate the licensing of those vaccines through our own Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency rather than wait for the European Medicines Agency.

Pictured: Simran Saughall (right) administers a booster vaccine to Adam Hamilton (left) at a vaccination centre in Leeds, as the booster vaccination programme continues across the UK

It is no secret that not everyone in the EU was absolutely thrilled by the speed of the UK’s progress. I seem to remember there were some adverse (and totally unjustified) comments on the efficacy of Britain’s AstraZeneca vaccine.

That was a great shame, because the AstraZeneca jab has been distributed, at cost, to about 2.5billion people around the world. The Oxford-invented vaccine has probably saved millions of lives.

I also remember an unedifying argument about five million doses of the vaccine that were left to languish in a plant in Holland, even though the UK had paid for them.

All that wrangling is now behind us, and the key lesson is that in the end it is impossible to hold back the UK, and impossible to stop this country taking advantage of our new freedoms – and we will go ever faster.

Our new Brexit Freedoms Bill will make it easier to get rid of retained EU law, the weird system by which EU legislation occupies a semi-sacred place on the UK statute book.

We will go forward with an independent approach. In all the new technology areas where the UK excels, in data and cyber and artificial intelligence and a huge range of other areas, as set out today.

We will continue to campaign for free trade and open markets.

And be in no doubt that this epic project is in the interests of the EU as well. As it happens, I think the Brussels machine will increasingly benefit from having the stimulus of regulatory competition from the UK.

But there is a more important point still. The UK is in many ways the EU’s biggest trading partner.

We have this timezone’s biggest banking and financial centre where so many European businesses raise the capital they need. We are inveterate admirers and consumers of their goods and services.

And at a time of great uncertainty and peril, when 100,000 Russian troops threaten Ukraine, it is worth remembering that the UK is the second-biggest contributor to Nato.

Today we stand shoulder to shoulder with our European friends and allies. We are leading the work of preparing the right package of sanctions – tough enough to deter President Putin from what we all know would be a disastrous incursion into Ukraine.

Along with the US and Lithuania, we are one of the few countries to have taken the step of providing Ukraine with some of the weaponry – purely defensive – that the Ukrainians need.

From 2016 onwards, when I became foreign secretary, I have made it clear that this country might have left the EU – but we have emphatically not left Europe.

What do the EU countries really want or need? They need a strong, prosperous and successful UK.

That is what Brexit is helping to deliver in all kinds of ways.

That fast UK vaccine rollout was not bad for the EU. It was good, because none of us is safe until everyone is safe.

And what drives prosperity and recovery in the UK will drive recovery in the rest of Europe. It is that spirit of co-operation – that is bringing us together over Ukraine – that we need now, as we urgently address the problem of the Northern Ireland protocol.

We can find a solution that respects the EU single market, and the sovereign and territorial integrity of the UK single market – and which also addresses the need for balance under the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.

Now is the time for the whole of the West to come together – not to squabble over essentially theological disputes. The only person who benefits is Putin.

It is time to put aside the old divisions. Two years on, it is time to abandon the punitive and zero-sum approach.

And as we develop this post-Brexit agenda of freedom, it will be great for Britain and good for the whole of Europe.

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