UK vows to go 'further and faster' to benefit from Brexit

Boris Johnson hails vaccines and immigration as areas of early success

FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 file photo European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, right, welcomes British Prime Minister Boris Johnson prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool via AP, File)
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Post-Brexit Britain will go “further and faster” in 2022 to seek the benefits of being outside the EU, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.

Mr Johnson touted the UK’s tightening of immigration rules and its independent vaccination programme as advantages of Brexit in 2021.

But with tension unresolved over Northern Ireland and the economic effects of Brexit partially obscured by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, voters remain divided on whether leaving the EU was the right choice.

Speaking to mark the anniversary of Britain’s full departure from the bloc, Mr Johnson said there was more to gain from the “enormous potential that our new freedoms bring”.

This will include scrapping EU rules that were provisionally held over in UK law but will be rewritten or scrapped if they do not help Britain, Downing Street said.

It said one area of interest was using regulatory freedoms to position Britain as a technological leader in fields such as artificial intelligence, self-driving cars and medical devices.

Ministers will review regulations on genetically modified food and seek a “less burdensome” version of the EU’s data protection laws, the government said.

Mr Johnson, who campaigned to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum that led to Brexit, ends the year in a politically weakened position after a string of setbacks that culminated in a wounding by-election defeat before Christmas.

But the prime minister said he wanted to “keep up the momentum” after what he described as early successes in “cutting back on EU red tape and bureaucracy”.

Downing Street cited the abolition of the so-called “tampon tax” on sanitary products as an example of this. Another one was a move still under discussion to allow sales in imperial weights and measures.

Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament, with the country still divided on whether leaving the EU was the right idea. AP

Vaccine success

Mr Johnson said “avoiding sluggish EU processes” had allowed Britain to launch its prolific vaccination programme against Covid-19.

Britain leapt ahead of its neighbours in vaccinations in early 2021, after the EU’s joint procurement plan struggled to secure supplies.

Many EU countries have since caught up with the UK in first and second doses, although Britain is at the front of the pack on the booster shots regarded as essential to tackling the Omicron variant.

Mr Johnson highlighted free trade deals signed by Britain, including a recent pact with Australia which was the first negotiated from scratch rather than imitating an EU agreement.

On immigration, he celebrated the launch of a points-based system which had long been one of the key demands of Brexit campaigners.

A bill recently passed by the House of Commons will provide tougher measures against illegal immigration, including in the English Channel.

The migrant crisis there has added to tension between Britain and France over the operation of the trade deal agreed to a year ago.

Mr Johnson said the deal with the EU was “just the start”.

“Our mission since has been to maximise the benefits of Brexit so that we can thrive as a modern, dynamic and independent country,” he said.

“In the year ahead, my government will go further and faster to deliver on the promise of Brexit.”

Updated: December 31, 2021, 10:30 PM