49. Weekly Newsletter

Brexit Trade Deal Progress

The UK government is on track to miss its target for securing post-Brexit trade agreements on 80% of UK trade by the end of 2022. At present, it is set to achieve coverage of 63% of trade which has limited UK exporters since Brexit. The BBC has reported that the 80% target was dependent upon a US trade deal but the Biden administration has focused upon other priorities. Additionally, the government had aimed to secure a free trade deal with India before Diwali (12th November) but this has been missed too.

Deals have been signed with the EU and 71 other countries which includes Australia, New Zealand and Japan since Brexit. However, government data also reveals that the number of UK firms who are categorised as ‘exporters’ has fallen 15% from 149,443 in 2020 to 126,812 in 2021. The number of exporters has fallen in every region of the UK with the South East of England disproportionately declining 23%; whereas, Northern Ireland (which is still part of the EU’s single market) declined by the lowest percentage (4%). Although, the International Trade Secretary highlighted a post-COVID bounce back in exports valued at £748bn for the year which represented a £132bn increase on the year prior.

Newspapers & Politics

The UK’s front page news cycle over the last seven days have covered a wide range of topics including the Prince and Princess of Wales hosting their annual Earthshot Prize in Boston whereby five pioneering sustainability projects were each awarded £1m. There has also been extensive coverage of England playing in the World Cup and warnings over extensive strikes across the UK as unions campaign for higher wages during the ongoing cost of living crisis. Some of the newspaper front pages over the last week were:

  • The Sunday Times: Panicking Tories plan tough new laws on asylum
  • The Guardian: NHS union chiefs meet to plan joint Christmas strike
  • The Daily Telegraph: Strikes on every day until Christmas
  • The Guardian: Revealed- 70% of England’s water firms in foreign hands
  • The Independent: UK Christians in minority for first time since the Dark Ages
  • Financial Times: Banks set for release from ringfencing rules in drive to free competitive spirit

On Thursday (1st December) PM Sunak faced his first by-election since becoming leader in the northern city of Chester which has traditionally been a safe seat for opposition Labour Party. The results revealed that Labour would retain this seat and substantially increase their vote share from 49.6% in 2019 to 60.8% in 2022. Meanwhile, the Conservative Party vote share declined from 38.3% to 22.2% although it is worth noting that ruling parties have typically performed poorly in by-elections. This represented an overall 13.6% swing in polling and, if a similar performance was achieved in the next general election, could lead to a comfortable 30 seat majority for Labour.

Project Gigabit

In March 2021 the UK launched a £5bn programme called Project Gigabit in a bid to bring next generation gigabit broadband to over one million “hard to reach” homes and businesses. On Wednesday (30th November 2022) the government reaffirmed its commitment to the programme and provided updates on the innovative progress and solutions created. The minister responsible highlighted the gigabit-capable coverage target of 85% of the UK population by 2025 with an estimated 72% coverage already achieved (from 6% in 2019).

In highly remote areas (where rolling out cables would be highly costly or impractical), the government are working alongside South-African born American entrepreneur Elon Musk’s Starlink technology business. This deal will test how over 3,000 low-Earth orbit small satellites can provide high-speed internet to rural areas with trials showing internet speeds of up to 200 megabits a second (far beyond the UK average of 50Mbps).

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