Matthew Elliott tells Blair: You must accept the referendum result
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And he also suggested Prime Minister Boris Johnson could not have picked a better person to finish the job than Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who has been handed the Brexit portfolio after the resignation of Lord David Frost. Mr Elliot, under whose stewardship the campaign attracted the support of prominent figures including Michael Gove and Mr Johnson himself, confounded expectations when he masterminded a narrow victory for Leave in the 2016 referendum.
Writing for Politico a year after the end of the transition period, during which time Britain has been buffeted by the global pandemic, he pointed to Britain’s liberation from EU red tape, which enabled the nation to get a head-start by approving the use of the Pfizer vaccine earlier than other nations.
He said: “One thing alone made Brexit worthwhile in 2021 – the vaccine rollout.
“The UK led the way in Europe in getting people jabbed, enabling the Government to lift coronavirus restrictions far sooner than any country in the European Union.”
Less progress had been made on attaining the economic benefits of Brexit, but this was understandable with the focus on fighting the pandemic, Mr Elliott stressed.
He added: “And we did manage to sign a free trade agreement with Australia and lay the foundation for further progress in 2022.”
Referring to the loss of Mr Johnson’s high-profile Brexit frontman, Mr Elliott said: “Some people suggest that with David Frost out of Government, progress will slow on Brexit.
“But in appointing Liz Truss to head up Britain’s EU policy, Boris Johnson couldn’t have picked a stronger champion of business and enterprise to lead the charge.”
Mr Elliott explained: “Like Frost, she supported Remain in 2016, but the zeal she has shown for free trade demonstrates her understanding of the opportunities that Brexit presents.
“Now we’re reaching the beginning of the end of COVID-19 (touch wood), the Government will have more bandwidth to focus on fully attaining these opportunities.
“And with Goldman Sachs, HSBC, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank all predicting that the UK will be the fastest growing economy in 2022 – for the second year in a row – that’s a significant vote of confidence in post-Brexit Britain.”
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The UK and the EU found themselves at loggerheads over vaccines last year.
In April, Britain demanded the European Union allow the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines it has ordered, as tensions over a possible export ban on EU-manufactured shots mounted and Brussels pointed an accusing finger at drugmaker AstraZeneca.
After falling far behind post-Brexit Britain and the United States in rolling out vaccines, EU leaders even discussed a possible ban on vaccine exports to Britain at a summit that month.
Mr Johnson spoke to leaders including then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, to steer them away from such a move.
AstraZeneca told Brussels the UK was using a clause in its supply contract which prevents exports of its vaccines until the British market is fully served, EU officials said.
The European Commission, which has coordinated vaccine orders for the EU, said reciprocity was key.
The EU had exported some 35 million doses since the end of January, including 10 million to Britain, but Britain has exported none, even though two UK facilities feature in the EU’s contract with AstraZeneca.
European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer told a news conference: “What our position is, is that we expect AstraZeneca to deliver the doses to the European Union that have been contracted.
“Contacts are ongoing with the company.”
The dispute was eventually resolved, but the EU’s vaccine rollout remained far behind Britain’s.
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