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Another tumultuous week in politics - here's our political editor's take on events


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With less than 50 days to go before Brexit, just how ready are we for departure from the EU?

According to to business chiefs, not nearly ready enough - as a House of Lords select committee was told.

Are we ready for departure from the EU?
Are we ready for departure from the EU?

The committee was examining the issue of how far advanced were the government’s preparations for a new IT system for Customs declarations.

And the seemingly bad news was that it is still some way off being fully operational.

Des Hiscock, director general of The UK Association for International Trade, warned the consequences could be catastrophic.

"We need to agree a co-ordinated mitigation plan with HMRC and this industry if we are to achieve any success.

"There are two challenges that need to be addressed: the first is obviously the UK's unnecessary insistence on pursuing this untested and incomplete system; it is not going to be ready; it is unreliable; its functionality has been significantly reduced.”

The committee examined the issue of how far advanced were the government’s preparations for a new IT system for Customs declarations. Stock picture
The committee examined the issue of how far advanced were the government’s preparations for a new IT system for Customs declarations. Stock picture

And for good measure, there was an equally sober assessment in a report by the National Audit Office, which warned that although the government has undertaken a significant amount of work on systems and infrastructure, the Covid-19 pandemic has 'exacerbated delays in government preparations and significant risks remain'.

It seems there maybe a lot of short-term pain to before we get to the nirvana of "Taking Back Control."

On a more positive note, plans drawn up by Kent emergency planners to deal with traffic congestion and disruption after January are being finessed and refined as we head to the day of departure.

There is, however, one fly in the ointment, and it’s a pretty large one.

According to the latest version of the plan drawn up by the Kent Resilience Forum, the government appears to be dragging its heels on a crucial element, namely granting permission for the various lorry park sites - or Inland Border Facilities as they are called - in the county.

Plans to deal with traffic congestion and disruption after January are being refined by Kent emergency planners. Stock picture
Plans to deal with traffic congestion and disruption after January are being refined by Kent emergency planners. Stock picture

The report says the traffic management plan can only become operational once the government gives confirmation of the Special Development Orders (SDOs) for each of Kent’s five sites by the Department For Transport (DfT) and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) including the detailed operational plans for each site as well as the respective Command and Control Plans.

There was finally some positive news on the battle to eliminate the coronavirus with the announcement that a vaccine might soon become available.

The only real problem seems to be the vaccine needs to be stored at a temperature of minus 70 degrees.

Not surprisingly there is a shortage of facilities where this might be available. Sticking it in in the freezer department of your fridge next to to a bag of peas won't, unfortunately, do the trick.

The vaccine news ought to have been an opportunity for the Prime Minister to get on the front foot on Covid-19 but the announcement coincided with the launch of a group of backbench MPs whose mission is to stop further national lockdowns and to put pressure on the government be greater transparency over data on the pandemic.

Among the members of the newly formed group are the MP for South Thanet Craig Mackinlay and Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson.

Craig Mackinlay and Gordon Henderson. Stock picture
Craig Mackinlay and Gordon Henderson. Stock picture

While its short-term focus is on Covid-19, there are some who feel the group, which is made up of largely Euro-sceptics, might stick around as a self-styled political irritant.

The Prime Minister could be forgiven for feeling that the fates are conspiring against him as a major row blew up over the role of special advisers in Downing Street.

If you couldn’t quite hear the sound of crockery being flung between warring factions, there was no denying that some bare-knuckled political in-fighting was going on between rival camps over plans to offer a new job to Lee Cain, director of communications.

However he quit as it became obvious that there were influential figures in Downing Street who did not want him to be promoted.

That in turn has led to to confirmation that Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister's closest ally, would also be leaving by the end of the year.

Mr Cummings, who masterminded the successful Brexit campaign, has been a divisive figure, to put it mildly. Among his foes were several Kent MPs, notably the veteran MP for North Thanet Sir Roger Gale.

Dominic Cummings, will also be leaving Downing Street by the end of the year. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA
Dominic Cummings, will also be leaving Downing Street by the end of the year. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA

He led calls for Mr Cummings to to stand aside after the high-profile row involving claims he breached Covid restrictions during the first national lockdown when he travelled to Durham with his family.

Sir Roger can feel vindicated. On the other hand, voters are likely to be mystified at the fuss over unelected special advisors.

But the episode does underline a sense that there has been something of a dysfunctional atmosphere in Downing Street.

Head to our politics page for expert analysis and all the latest news from your politicians and councils.

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