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Chief Minister Press Briefing: 30 December 2020

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Good afternoon. Thank you for joining me this afternoon. I hope you have all enjoyed a wonderful Christmas.  

I would like to update you on our response to COVID. I am joined here at the lectern by Dr Henrietta Ewart, our Director of Public Health who can also provide information on today’s breaking news regarding the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.  

But before I do, I would like to update you on an issue that we used to talk about a lot – Brexit.  

To assist with questions, we are able to call on David Corlett, who is head of the European and Trade Policy team in the Cabinet Office and is in a position to provide more detail, if required.    

Although the challenges of COVID and the Government’s response to it have taken up a lot of our bandwidth through 2020, this does not mean that we have not also been working on Brexit. Far from it. Officers from across Government have been working hard throughout the year to secure the best possible outcome for the Isle of Man.  

You will have seen from the media that the United Kingdom and the European Union announced on Christmas Eve that after many months they had reached an agreement on their future trade relationship.  

The document is known as the Trade & Economic Cooperation Agreement. I briefed Tynwald on it this morning. This afternoon I would like to take you through what it means for the Isle of Man.  

Before getting into the substance, it is worth covering some of the basics again.  

As I am sure you remember, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union on 23 June 2016.  I know that many people on our Island were – and maybe still are – frustrated that we were not able to vote in a referendum of such importance. For many it felt that others were making decisions that impacted us.  

It is worth remembering, of course, that the Isle of Man was never a member of the European Union. We sat outside but had a number of benefits because of the UK’s membership. Some of these benefits were related to holding a British passport – the right to travel freely and to settle or work across Europe.  

Other benefits relating to trade were through something known as Protocol 3. This was a set of really beneficial arrangements that meant we could trade our goods – including our meat, seafood and cheese - into the European market without tariffs or quotas.  

It was a good place to be. In terms of trade, we had most of the benefits of being a member of the EU without the cost or many of the obligations.  

So when voters in the UK decided to leave the European Union, this did produce a certain amount of uncertainty for us.  

We have therefore been working closely with the UK Government to ensure that they – and the EU – fully understood what was important to us. And to ensure that we could get the best possible outcome for the Island.  

Some people were concerned that the UK was negotiating for the Isle of Man rather than us doing it ourselves. I do want to reassure you on this point. Firstly, it is normal for the UK to negotiate international treaties on behalf of us, the other Crown Dependencies and the Overseas Territories.  

Secondly, I can tell you that the dialogue we had with the UK was first rate. I had contact with UK Ministers regularly. Officials from across Government were in constant contact with their opposite numbers in the UK and with those leading the negotiations. And as the negotiations went into the home straight, the team here at the Cabinet Office and other departments were working through weekends and evenings. This really has been a team effort.  

Negotiations between the UK and the EU have not been easy.  But we were involved at every stage. And our voice was definitely heard. Then on Christmas Eve, we received formal confirmation that a deal had been done. The UK and the EU had agreed their Trade & Cooperation Agreement.  

Why was it so important to get the deal right? 

There were a number of ways that the negotiations could have ended. You will have seen from the media the continuous uncertainty of whether or not there was going to be a deal – right to the end.  

Many of the possible endings could have led to real risks for the Island. Let me take you through a couple of them.  

First. If there had been no deal for the UK, there would have been no deal for the Isle of Man. This could have had a real impact on our economy. Our exports – both manufactured goods and agricultural goods – would have faced tariffs when exported to Europe. This could have made our lamb, cheese, seafood (for example) and a range of manufactured goods less attractive and potentially impossible to sell.  

This would also have meant tariffs on imported goods. This is not just about brie, Parma ham and other high end goods. Despite having wonderful produce locally, we do import more than we maybe realise from the EU. Those goods – and therefore shopping baskets for families across the Island – would have become more expensive.  

Second. There was a real risk at the start of the process that either: the EU would refuse to allow the Isle of Man to join any new arrangements; or that the conditions that they might have insisted on to allow us to join might have been impossible for us. If the UK had been “in” and we had been “out” this could have meant real friction in our trade with the UK. As well as tariffs on our exports. A lose-lose situation.  

This was why we have made every effort to get this right. And I am pleased to say that is what we have achieved.  

As I briefed Tynwald this morning, as a result of the agreement, Manx companies will be able to trade with the European market with no tariffs, no quotas and minimal friction. This applies to manufactured goods AND agri-foods.  

Manx goods will be treated in the same way as UK goods when trading with the EU. Manx lamb can be sold in the same way as Welsh lamb. Manx seafood can be sold in the same way as Scottish seafood. And manufactured goods from Ballasalla can be sold in the same as manufactured goods from Birmingham.  

I know from speaking to local businesses who do export that this certainty for the future is what they needed. And I hope that this clarity will encourage those who do not yet export to the EU, to consider doing so.  

Of course there was give and take in these negotiations. Our ask was for free trade with the EU – no tariffs, no quotas.  

The EU’s ask was that those who had previously fished in our territorial waters could continue to do so.  The whole question of fishing has caused a lot of emotional debate here on the Island and across in the UK. It was clear that without fish for the EU, there would be no goods for us.  

We agreed to explore this with the EU subject to three important principles.  

First, that only those EU vessels with a proven and recent track record of fishing in Manx waters could be allowed to continue to do so. There could be no increase in the level of fishing undertaken by EU vessels.  

Second, that any new arrangement had to be modern and champion sustainability. For example we needed to be able to reduce or stop fishing in a particular place or for particular species if our stocks were at risk.  

It might be worth saying at this point that scallops and queen scallops are not currently fished by EU vessels and this will remain the case under the new arrangements.  

Third, that for the first time, the Isle of Man would be responsible for licencing and managing effort by EU vessels. There could be no question of anyone else doing this. This is an important measure in the control of our territorial waters.  

These were important negotiating positions for us. And I am pleased to say that we secured all of these under the new arrangements.  

Any EU vessel that wishes to fish in our waters in the future will have to prove a track record of ten days fishing in any of the three twelve-month periods prior to January 2020.  They will have to apply to our fisheries team at DEFA for a licence to do so. And they will only be able to fish for the species that they previously did, in the section of our waters where they previously did.  

I know that some people would have liked to have seen all foreign vessels excluded from our waters. I get that. But I believe this approach of allowing in the small number of vessels that can provide this solid and recent track record is balanced and fair.  And I am pleased that our new ability to licence and manage will mean we can put sustainability of our waters – and our industry – front and centre.  

A member of our fishing sector came to speak to me at an event a couple of weeks ago. As he and I discussed, once caught, fish and seafood become goods. If we had refused access to this limited number of EU vessels and as a result had not secured the goods part of the deal, Manx caught products would have been subject to tariffs when sold into Europe. It was about getting the balance right and I believe we have.  

Taken as a package, I believe that this is a good deal for the Isle of Man. Was life under Protocol 3 better? Could the UK have secured a better deal? These are difficult questions to give a certain answer. But I do know that the outcome is better than we had hoped for at the start of the negotiations. And it certainly could have been considerably worse.  

Before moving on, I would like to take a second to recall that the end of the Brexit transition period is not just about trade. There are things that many of us need to do.  

Previously we have talked about three categories of people who needed to ensure they were ready for 2021: people who traded with the EU; those who come from the EU; and those who travel to the EU.  

The deal reached by the EU and the UK deals with questions of trade. If you trade with the EU, there are changes in documentation and process. I know that businesses have already done a lot to be ready.  

If you are from the EU then please make sure you have registered with the EU Settlement Scheme before the end of June 2021. You can do so either through the UK or our own system. It is simple to do and colleagues in the Immigration Team here can help you.  

If you visit the EU, please ensure you have checked the latest information regarding insurance, passport validity, pets and much more.  

For all of these there is plenty of information at Please take a few moments to ensure you are ready for 2021.  

I am happy to take some question on this. But before I do, I would like to update you on the Island’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and reiterate a number of points contained in the statement I delivered to Tynwald Members this morning. 

We continue to live our lives in relative freedom, with COVID-19 being held at bay and prevented from affecting our community as deeply as it does elsewhere. 

We only need to look at the deteriorating situation in the UK, and the emergence of new strains of the infection, to reflect on how our lives would change significantly should we allow it to re-enter our community. 

To enable our current position to be sustained, the importance of observing self-isolation rules cannot be overstated. 

While people should always aim to self-isolate alone, this is often not possible.  In many cases households are choosing to isolate together, but this leads to the possibility of further infection and therefore greater risk.   

The returning traveller must follow the guidance for self-isolation within a household.  This means that they must remain in their own room away from other household members.  If they need to leave their room to use shared facilities, they must make sure they do not come into contact with others and that they sanitise the facilities after use.   

Even with these precautions, there is still a risk of household transmission, particularly during winter when houses are heated and ventilation poor.   

We are reviewing the requirements for testing and for household self-isolation to ensure that we reduce the risk of secondary spread of infection as far as possible. 

My message today is therefore simple: be vigilant in observing the guidance; and always report any symptoms immediately by ringing COVID-111. 

I’d now like to bring in Director of Public Health Henrietta Ewart to provide an update on the Oxford vaccine. 

On Friday, a new year dawns. After all that 2020 has thrown at us, I am sure, like me, you will welcome the opportunity the New Year brings for a fresh start and renewal. The issue concerning the future trade relationship between the UK and the EU – and what this means for the Isle of Man – is resolved. Next week we will commence the COVID vaccination programme.

Although our Island has in many ways been fortunate during this pandemic, I know there has been sorrow and hardship. With 2021 on the horizon, I feel certain that we can look to brighter days ahead.

Please enjoy the remainder of the festive season as we bid farewell to 2020 and welcome in 2021.

I will speak to you in the New Year.