Awash in COVID-19, a subdued and locked-down Britain moved into an uncertain new normal Friday as it left the European Union upon the close of the Brexit deal’s transition period.
“This is an amazing moment for this country,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 56, said in his New Year’s Eve message. “We have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it.”
There will be plenty who will be only too happy to say goodbye to the grimness of 2020.
But this was also the year when we rediscovered a spirit of togetherness, of community.
In 2021 we have our freedom in our hands and it is up to us to make the most of it. Happy New Year! pic.twitter.com/gDRXe2SuCb
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 31, 2020
Brexit was passed in 2016, and since that time the sharply divided British government has tried to disentangle itself from the EU after 48 years as a member of the partnership.
As noted by the BBC, that has not been easy, requiring extensive new regulations on trade and travel, some of which were put together as the year ended and some that still need to be developed.
“This is the biggest imposition of red tape that businesses have had to deal with in 50 years,” said William Bain of the British Retail Consortium.
Johnson spoke of the virus and Brexit in a New Year’s message printed in The Telegraph.
“I hope I can be forgiven for reminding the world that many people used to insist that you couldn’t do both: you couldn’t have unfettered free trade with the EU, we were assured, without conforming to EU laws. You couldn’t have your cake and eat it, we were told,” Johnson wrote.
Will Britain be stronger on its own?
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“Maybe it would be unduly provocative to say that this is a cake-ist treaty; but it is certainly from the patisserie department.
“I believe that it is a big win for both sides of the Channel. For us, it means the end of the rancorous bickering about ‘Europe’ that has bedevilled our politics for so long. It means the end of that uneasy feeling that we were constantly being asked to sign up for the details of a project – a giant federal fusion of states – in which we didn’t really believe and hadn’t really bargained for,” he went on.
Johnson noted that COVID cases continue to force lockdowns and hailed the development of a coronavirus vaccine by the British firm AstraZeneca as a harbinger of what Britain, free from the EU, can achieve.
The deal is done. pic.twitter.com/zzhvxOSeWz
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 24, 2020
“With a great Brexit deal, and with a cheap and effective UK-made vaccine, we are creating the potential trampoline for the national bounceback,” he wrote.
But with Britain recording over 53,000 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, Johnson noted that survival comes before recovery.
“The moment is not yet come; and I cannot stress too much that the next weeks and months will still require courage and patience and discipline. But with every jab that goes into the arms of the elderly and vulnerable, we are changing the odds: against COVID, and in favour of the human race,” he wrote.
“In the distance and through the darkness we can see the brightly illuminated pub sign of our destination – the normal convivial life that we have been forced to leave behind and that is so vital for our economy.
“We are not there yet, but we are not far off; and most importantly, we can see with ever-growing clarity how we are going to get there.”
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