Trees are up, lights are on and carols are being sung – but this year feels very different for us all. Coronavirus has unleashed an unprecedented challenge on our world and the phrase ‘annus horribilis’ may be at the tip of many of our tongues once more this Christmas.
Many of us had hoped that, after last year’s whirlwind events, 2020 would bring a sense of normality and relief to our lives – how wrong we were! Looking back, I wrote in January that I was ‘re-energised’ and ‘ready to go as we seek to get Brexit done, unite the country and move on to unleash Britain’s potential.’
Well – this is still the case!
In February, the Prime Minister appointed me Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party – where I sought to re-group the Party after our election victory in 2019, seeking to switch CCHQ from the general election to the local elections that we had expected in May. This was quickly followed by my appointment as Minister for International Trade. My main responsibility has been to secure continuity agreements around the world ahead of the end of the transition period – and lay the groundwork for future free trade agreements. I am pleased to report that we’ve already reached agreement with 53 countries, totalling around 90% of the trade previously covered by EU trade deals, with more to come; we’ve gone further with Japan, including in areas that are important to Britain like data and digital; we’ve agreed that we will go further with Canada and South Korea next year; and we will begin negotiations with others in the near future.
I’m writing this because I want to reassure you that the machinery of government hasn’t stopped because of coronavirus. We are still working on your behalf – Brexit has happened, and this government is getting on with what you elected us to do – to improve Britain.
This year alone, we have seen huge investment in our police forces as part of our manifesto pledge to hire 20,000 new officers; there are 14,800 more nurses in our NHS than this time last year; plans are now drawn up for our new hospital here in north Hampshire; and local roads have seen a huge boost in funding with junctions being improved and many potholes being fixed for the first time in years!
There’s more, but I can’t list everything we have achieved – in spite of coronavirus – this year, so I hope this goes some way to show that the government and I are working to repay the trust given to us in December 2019. And we are working to get through this coronavirus challenge we have been set. It’s not easy. There’s no instruction manual. No-one’s had to deal with this before. I know not everyone agrees with what we have done and are doing.
Romans 5:3-4 seems apt: “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.” What does this mean?
Sure, we could give up and seek to go straight back to the way things were. We all want our normal lives back, but that’d mean giving in to the virus to get there. This is a test of endurance. Tackling coronavirus is a challenge unparalleled for us all – the greatest challenge for our country since World War II. Through these difficulties, we have all persevered – and, in doing so, we have saved lives and learnt a lot.
There will always be, in hindsight, decisions that could have been made differently and actions that could have been taken sooner. But when we boarded this ‘combat coronavirus’ train, we did so in good faith. We are now on a particular track. There is now a glimmer of hope on the horizon. We must now stay on board, for the end of the journey will come before long.
It is with this faith that I know we will all recover and look back one day with not only lessons learned, but with admiration at the way we all persevered for the good of our fellow man.
My very best wishes to you and those you love this Christmas.