Andrew Mitchell: I used to be adamantly opposed to all forms of assisted dying. Here’s why I changed my views.

22 Jul

Andrew Mitchell was International Development Secretary from 2010 to 2012. He is the MP for Sutton Coldfield.

The All Party Group on choice at the end of life – composed of members of both the Commons and the Lords – held its first ever virtual meeting last week.

That more than 60 members of Parliament chose to attend at 9am is an eloquent testimony to the seriousness with which Members of Parliament are examining the issue. At the meeting I agreed to be the co-Chair of the group along with my Labour colleague Karin Smyth, the Member of Parliament for Bristol South.

When I entered the House of Commons in 1987, I was adamantly opposed to all forms of assisted dying. But over the years (perhaps it is part of the ageing process) I have completely changed my mind.

Let me explain why.

It is first and foremost because of my experience as a constituency MP. I have sat in my office in the Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield and heard stories from so many of my constituents. Often with tears pouring down their faces, they have given me deeply intimate details of the last days of someone they loved but who died a miserable and sometimes very painful death.

By the end of these meetings, often with tears coursing down my own face, I was invariably left with two overwhelming feelings: the first is that we would not let an animal we loved be treated in such a way and, second, I do not myself wish to go through the sort of end of life experience that my constituents have so often eloquently described.

And just as I would not want it for myself, I no longer want members of my family or those I represent in Parliament to have to navigate so awful an end.

I believe the time is approaching when Parliament must examine this again. This is not a party political issue subject to whipping; it is an issue of conscience where members of the House of Commons hold different views reached entirely honourably on the basis of their own personal beliefs.

Assisted dying could be the great liberal reform achieved by this government. Public support for assisted dying is overwhelming and consistent across all parts of society. Out of the British public, 84 per cent support assisted dying including 86 per cent of Conservative voters. Of Conservative Party members, 67 per cent support assisted dying. It is interesting also to note that 79 per cent of people of faith and 86 per cent of people with disabilities support assisted dying.

Support is also highest in the North East, East Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber. It is lowest in London. So this is not a liberal metropolitan issue; it is one that unites the country.

Assisted dying is legal in 10 states in the United States of America (some for more than 20 years), two states in Australia, nationwide in Canada and likely to be nationwide in New Zealand later this year. It is interesting to note that in no country with legalised assisted dying has the law been repealed. And in Britain we now have the opportunity to look at the differing legislative approaches in all of these countries, evaluate them, and deliver the best possible results for our constituents.

Consider these facts:

  • Everyday 17 people in the UK will die in pain and distress that cannot be prevented by even the very best palliative care.
  • Hospices now acknowledge that some dying people are in so much pain medication doesn’t work.
  • One Britain travels to Switzerland for assisted dying every week at a cost of around £10,000, the expense, the difficulty of traveling when terminally ill and the challenges of obtaining the necessary documentation put this option out of the reach of all but a few.
  • Those who accompany their loved ones to Switzerland run the risk of police prosecution. Ann Whaley, married to her husband Geoffrey for more than 60 years, was interviewed under caution by police officers.
  • Around 300 terminally ill people take their own lives every year behind closed doors. The effect of these suicides on their family and on responders can be devastating. Some of them have gone wrong, which has added to the immense distress. Mavis Eccleston helped her husband of almost 60 years, Dennis, who was dying in agony to take his own life and was later prosecuted for murder. She was acquitted by a jury but only after 18 months of investigation. This brought huge distress to her and her family.

There is also a risk in maintaining the status quo as attitudes among the public change. The increased reporting of cases undermines public confidence in the law. Almost half of police and crime commissioners including five Conservative PCC’s have called on the Government to review the law saying the current law does not protect vulnerable people.

The medical profession’s views are shifting too: the Royal College of Physicians moved its position to neutrality in 2019 and the Royal College of General Practitioners who surveyed their membership this year found a surge in support for assisted dying – 41 per cent compared to just five per cent in 2013.

As assisted dying becomes more established and understood in other English-speaking countries, demands in the UK for the law to change will continue to grow.

Many of us hope that the Health Select Committee under Jeremy Hunt, its distinguished and experienced Chair, might consider an inquiry which took evidence from the various sections of society that are most affected: dying people and their families, police officers, healthcare professionals and coroners, so that the issue can be explored further.

The Health Select Committee will currently be heavily preoccupied with the Covid crisis but perhaps in due course they may feel this is a subject which they are well placed to examine.

So finally, what are the modest changes those of us who want reform are seeking?

  • We want to give people who are terminally ill (and also in the final months of their lives) the option of dying on their own terms. We want this to be an active choice by a rational person to end their own life as they wish.
  • The change in the law we propose would contain stringent safeguards to protect people; it would only be accessible to mentally competent adults.
  • Two doctors would assess the person making the request to ensure that they met the eligibility criteria under the law. They would explain all other care options in full.
  • A High Court judge would examine the person’s request and make sure that it was being made voluntarily – free from any pressure or coercion.
  • Once the request was approved, a doctor would be able to prescribe life-ending medication for the person who would then take it themselves under the supervision of a doctor or another healthcare professional.
  • Healthcare professionals who wanted to exercise conscientious objection would, of course, be able to do so.
  • There would be clear reporting procedures for doctors as well as monitoring through an annual report published by the Government.

The law change that we propose is based on one that has operated in Oregon in America for 23 years. We would like to add additional safeguards built in to make it right for the UK. There have been no cases of abuse of Oregon’s law and no extension of its eligibility criteria throughout these 23 years. This model of assisted dying legislation has since been adopted in nine other US states and passed by lawmakers in Australia and New Zealand.

Wherever you stand on this issue, let us now have a calm and measured debate on the best way forward. I believe this is a reform whose time is approaching.

Richard Holden: Three opportunities that open for us in an Australian trade deal

20 Jul

Maddisons Coffee Shop, Front Street, Consett

On Saturday, I did my sixth “Lockdown Litterpick”, around the beautiful Bollihope Common. A group of us bagged up five bin bags full of cans, bottles, pizza boxes and the general detritus that had been dumped in one the most beautiful spots in my constituency.

While chatting to my Association Chairman as the rubbish was collected, one of the volunteers revealed that she had emigrated from Canada to marry a Brit almost 40 years ago. Later that afternoon, I spoke with an old friend who had worked with me when I was a Special Adviser, before getting married and returning ‘down under’ to work for the Australian Government.

And later that afternoon still, on my way to my constituency office, I listened with interest to Times Radio as one of their correspondents gave an update on the New Zealand election – where the newly-elected National Party leader, Judith Collins, seems to be clipping the wings of Jacinda Ardern in an election that had until a couple of weeks ago looked as though it was shaping up to be a Labour landslide.

I mention these things because they to remind us that the ties that bind the United Kingdom with Canada, Australia and especially New Zealand are incredibly strong. Yes, they’re linguistic and historic, but they’re also based on families and friendships, and shared mature democratic systems of government underpinned by the rule of law.

As has been seen in recent years in both Australia and the United Kingdom, our Parliaments are more powerful than their premiers and the people aren’t afraid of switching out either if they’re not getting what they want. While Britain has spent the last few decades concerned over and trying to reform the nature of our relationship with the EU (which in 1980 made up 30 per cent of global GDP, but has shrunk to just under 15 per cent today) our CANZUK allies have been reaching out into the world.

I am very aware of how much with the grain some of these thoughts are in traditional conservative circles. But it’s increasingly clear to me that the opportunities presented by closer bonds with our Commonwealth allies are not some nostalgic pipe dream, but instead absolutely central to our future global ambitions, as well as the fillip our post-Coronavirus economy will need.

Our trade deal with Australia looks a though it might be one of the most comprehensive of the ones currently on the table, and there are three aspects of it that I’d like to flag.

First, Australia currently has a 20 per cent tariff on imports of luxury cars. Like the UK, the country is also right-hand drive. With our Range Rovers, Aston Martins and other top marques, surely this must be top target for negotiations.

Second, we’re much more understanding of Australians who want to come and work in the UK than the other way around. As we end our open borders with the EU and look at our Australian-style points-based immigration system, more mutual measures with our cousins in this regard must be a basis of future agreements.

Finally, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are all very developed service sector economies, but even our biggest companies are dwarfed by those of our American cousins. By opening our services sectors up to each other, we’ll drive competition, lower prices, increase productivity and, crucially, enable the formation of global firms with the diversity and reach across the globe.

That’s not to mention the new security integrations between our counties as the power structures of the globe tip towards the Pacific more generally and in which Canada, New Zealand and Australia all have a massive stake. We should be looking to leverage our foreign, defence and international assistance policies more generally on these security and international arrangements, as well as looking to build closer ties with an old ally of manufacturing in the North East of England – Japan.

China’s recent actions towards Hong Kong, the Pacific island nations, the South China Sea and, domestically, to its ethnic minority populations should give us all pause for thought. At the forefront of the minds of our allies across Asia and the Pacific is Chinese outward expansionism, control and internal repression

For Britain, out into the world is our call now. The tectonic plates of geo-politics have shifted to the Pacific; away from Europe to the wider globe. The world, not just the continent, is where Britain is at home. Now we’ve got to make the most of the opportunities on our global doorstep – and that starts with building our relationships with our old allies facing a new world on the Pacific rim.

Stephen Booth: Joining the CPTPP is how this country can show it’s serious about being “Global Britain”

9 Jul

Stephen Booth is Head of the Britain in the World Project at Policy Exchange.

Last week, the Prime Minister announced that in the wake of the pandemic the Government will “double down on levelling up”. It is clear that the domestic political agenda will be driven by this overriding social and economic objective, not to mention electoral imperative, as the country emerges from the Covid-19 crisis.

However, the UK also needs a narrative for its new place in the world, which promotes our interests and frames how we would like to be viewed by others. The question is not so much what Global Britain should “stand for”: the rules-based international system, open markets, defence of human rights and the rule of law. The question is by what means does the UK continue to further its interests and values in the new post-Brexit, post-corona world and how best do we resource ourselves to do so.

Ultimately, medium-sized powers will struggle to achieve their global ambitions on their own: the UK must invest in deepening its networks of alliances and building new relationships to form effective coalitions. And in that regard, next year will be an important one for UK diplomacy.

The UK’s exit from the Brexit transition period on January 1, 2021 will coincide with the UK taking on the annual presidency of the G7 and hosting the delayed UN climate summit, COP26. The UK has placed itself at the forefront of the ambition to build a “greener and more resilient global economy.” Meanwhile, the pandemic has also delayed to next year the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial conference, the organisation’s topmost decision-making body that usually meets every two years.

Trade is the area of UK international engagement most transformed by Brexit, since 2021 marks the point at which full responsibility for trade policy returns to the UK. Brexit also emphasises the need for the UK to recalibrate its relationships with the world’s three major economic and geopolitical hubs – North America, Asia-Pacific, and Europe.

The pandemic has resulted in a steep decline in global trade when protectionism is already on the rise, fuelled by increasing US-China tensions that look set to continue. The current crisis has understandably prompted calls for greater national resilience.

Strategic stockpiling for a limited array of products may be part of the solution. But the UK’s wider interest is served by counting on security and diversity of supply chains. The UK must also seek to influence the terms of trade in services, data and the new technologies, where our comparative advantage increasingly lies. This requires international rules and willing allies to uphold them.

Multilateral efforts at the WTO would be best, but these have faltered in recent years. The Government is therefore embarking on an ambitious strategy of concluding free trade agreements covering 80 per cent of UK trade within the next three years.

As we know, negotiations with the European Union are in a critical phase and while the prospect of a deal before the end of the year looks more promising, it is not guaranteed. Talks with the US have begun and any conclusion will now have to wait until after the Presidential election later this year. The UK may be able to make swifter progress with Asia-Pacific economies.

The top priority is securing a successor agreement with Japan, as the existing EU-Japan deal will cease to apply to the UK in January. Japan is keen to move quickly on a bespoke agreement. The UK has also officially opened negotiations with Australia and New Zealand.

All of these agreements, and a Japan deal in particular, would provide trade benefits in their own right but the bigger strategic prize is UK accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The CPTPP is the third largest trade area in the world and has been signed by 11 countries around the Pacific rim, including Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Last week, Policy Exchange held a webinar with a stellar cast to discuss the UK’s accession to CPTPP. It was surely significant that Liz Truss, Trade Secretary in this “Get Brexit Done” government, and Lord Mandelson, an arch-Remainer, both stressed the strategic value of the UK joining.

Truss made it clear that she sees CPTPP as “part of a broader strategy of the UK becoming a central hub in a network of free trade agreements, a networked Britain if you like rather than a fortress Britain.” Lord Mandelson emphasised that the process may take time but “the UK aligning itself with a Pacific Rim agenda of this kind is a good thing.”

Chan Chun Sing, the current Singaporean Trade Minister, stressed how keen he would be to see the UK join, while Tony Abbott, the former Australian Prime Minister, noted that joining “would be the best possible sign that Britain really does want to be a global country again.”

Joining CPTPP will not be without its challenges. Stephen Harper, the former Canadian Prime Minister, noted that “[j]oining a plurilateral trade agreement is not frankly going to be a matter of a lot of negotiation. The others are largely going to have a take it or leave it approach.” He added, “You can seek tailor-made provisions, but that will add time to what will be a long process”.

Nevertheless, the prize would be hugely strategically significant. Grouping together with like-minded nations would provide the UK with a new platform to promote global trade liberalisation and multilateral reform.

It would enable the UK to join others in addressing China’s global rise from a greater position of collective strength. Indeed, this was an original objective of the project. Although potentially a long process, UK accession might help to convince the US to join the agreement, following President Trump’s decision to pull out of the precursor Trans-Pacific Partnership.

As Harper noted, Britain joining would offer some significant advantages to the existing members. “This would go from being a purely regional pact to now being the beginning of an alternative global order,” he said.

It might be tempting to view “Global Britain” as a distraction or diversion from pressing domestic issues. However, it is a necessary compliment to levelling up. Global Britain does not just mean reaching out to other countries, it means enabling more of the country to benefit from and compete in a globalised world. Moving forward with the CPTPP would demonstrate that the UK is serious about furthering both of these goals.

Stephen Booth: Joining the CPTPP is how this country can show it’s serious about being “Global Britain”

9 Jul

Stephen Booth is Head of the Britain in the World Project at Policy Exchange.

Last week, the Prime Minister announced that in the wake of the pandemic the Government will “double down on levelling up”. It is clear that the domestic political agenda will be driven by this overriding social and economic objective, not to mention electoral imperative, as the country emerges from the Covid-19 crisis.

However, the UK also needs a narrative for its new place in the world, which promotes our interests and frames how we would like to be viewed by others. The question is not so much what Global Britain should “stand for”: the rules-based international system, open markets, defence of human rights and the rule of law. The question is by what means does the UK continue to further its interests and values in the new post-Brexit, post-corona world and how best do we resource ourselves to do so.

Ultimately, medium-sized powers will struggle to achieve their global ambitions on their own: the UK must invest in deepening its networks of alliances and building new relationships to form effective coalitions. And in that regard, next year will be an important one for UK diplomacy.

The UK’s exit from the Brexit transition period on January 1, 2021 will coincide with the UK taking on the annual presidency of the G7 and hosting the delayed UN climate summit, COP26. The UK has placed itself at the forefront of the ambition to build a “greener and more resilient global economy.” Meanwhile, the pandemic has also delayed to next year the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial conference, the organisation’s topmost decision-making body that usually meets every two years.

Trade is the area of UK international engagement most transformed by Brexit, since 2021 marks the point at which full responsibility for trade policy returns to the UK. Brexit also emphasises the need for the UK to recalibrate its relationships with the world’s three major economic and geopolitical hubs – North America, Asia-Pacific, and Europe.

The pandemic has resulted in a steep decline in global trade when protectionism is already on the rise, fuelled by increasing US-China tensions that look set to continue. The current crisis has understandably prompted calls for greater national resilience.

Strategic stockpiling for a limited array of products may be part of the solution. But the UK’s wider interest is served by counting on security and diversity of supply chains. The UK must also seek to influence the terms of trade in services, data and the new technologies, where our comparative advantage increasingly lies. This requires international rules and willing allies to uphold them.

Multilateral efforts at the WTO would be best, but these have faltered in recent years. The Government is therefore embarking on an ambitious strategy of concluding free trade agreements covering 80 per cent of UK trade within the next three years.

As we know, negotiations with the European Union are in a critical phase and while the prospect of a deal before the end of the year looks more promising, it is not guaranteed. Talks with the US have begun and any conclusion will now have to wait until after the Presidential election later this year. The UK may be able to make swifter progress with Asia-Pacific economies.

The top priority is securing a successor agreement with Japan, as the existing EU-Japan deal will cease to apply to the UK in January. Japan is keen to move quickly on a bespoke agreement. The UK has also officially opened negotiations with Australia and New Zealand.

All of these agreements, and a Japan deal in particular, would provide trade benefits in their own right but the bigger strategic prize is UK accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The CPTPP is the third largest trade area in the world and has been signed by 11 countries around the Pacific rim, including Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

Last week, Policy Exchange held a webinar with a stellar cast to discuss the UK’s accession to CPTPP. It was surely significant that Liz Truss, Trade Secretary in this “Get Brexit Done” government, and Lord Mandelson, an arch-Remainer, both stressed the strategic value of the UK joining.

Truss made it clear that she sees CPTPP as “part of a broader strategy of the UK becoming a central hub in a network of free trade agreements, a networked Britain if you like rather than a fortress Britain.” Lord Mandelson emphasised that the process may take time but “the UK aligning itself with a Pacific Rim agenda of this kind is a good thing.”

Chan Chun Sing, the current Singaporean Trade Minister, stressed how keen he would be to see the UK join, while Tony Abbott, the former Australian Prime Minister, noted that joining “would be the best possible sign that Britain really does want to be a global country again.”

Joining CPTPP will not be without its challenges. Stephen Harper, the former Canadian Prime Minister, noted that “[j]oining a plurilateral trade agreement is not frankly going to be a matter of a lot of negotiation. The others are largely going to have a take it or leave it approach.” He added, “You can seek tailor-made provisions, but that will add time to what will be a long process”.

Nevertheless, the prize would be hugely strategically significant. Grouping together with like-minded nations would provide the UK with a new platform to promote global trade liberalisation and multilateral reform.

It would enable the UK to join others in addressing China’s global rise from a greater position of collective strength. Indeed, this was an original objective of the project. Although potentially a long process, UK accession might help to convince the US to join the agreement, following President Trump’s decision to pull out of the precursor Trans-Pacific Partnership.

As Harper noted, Britain joining would offer some significant advantages to the existing members. “This would go from being a purely regional pact to now being the beginning of an alternative global order,” he said.

It might be tempting to view “Global Britain” as a distraction or diversion from pressing domestic issues. However, it is a necessary compliment to levelling up. Global Britain does not just mean reaching out to other countries, it means enabling more of the country to benefit from and compete in a globalised world. Moving forward with the CPTPP would demonstrate that the UK is serious about furthering both of these goals.

Alan Mak: Britain should champion a new Five Eyes critical minerals reserve system

30 Jun

Alan Mak is MP for Havant and Founder of the APPG on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The on-going trade dispute between the US and China has put the spotlight on so-called “critical minerals”. We in Britain cannot afford to be passive observers. Instead, we should take an active interest in this key strategic and economic issue, and play a leading role in safeguarding access to critical minerals, both for ourselves and our Five Eyes allies. Ensuring our scientists, manufacturers and technology businesses have a secure and reliable supply of critical minerals is vital for Britain’s leadership of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Critical minerals consist of the 17 Rare Earth Elements (REE) recognised by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, with names such as promethium and scandium, plus other economically valuable but relatively rare minerals such as lithium and cobalt (used in batteries), tungsten (used in defence products including missiles), bauxite (the source of aluminium) and graphite (key to battery production).

The REEs have unique magnetic, heat-resistant, and phosphorescent properties that no other elements have, which means they are often non-substitutable. Whilst used only in small quantities, they are key components in a wide range of consumer products from mobile phones, laptops and TVs, and have widespread defence applications in jet engines, satellites, lasers and missiles.

Although they are more abundant than their name implies, REEs and critical minerals are difficult and costly to mine and process. Converting critical minerals embedded in rocks from under the Earth’s crust to separated elements is a complex and costly process which often involves the use of highly concentrated acids and radiation.

China hosts most of the world’s processing capacity and supplied 80 percentemploy of the REEs imported by the US from 2014 to 2017. On average, China has accounted for more than 90 pe cent of the global production and supply of rare earths during the past decade, according to the US Geological Survey.

By contrast, the US has only one rare earth mining facility, and currently ships its mined tonnage to China for processing. Lynas Corporation, based in Australia, is the world’s only significant rare earths producer outside China. Other critical minerals are similarly concentrated in a small number of producer nations. For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was responsible for around 90 per cent of the world’s cobalt production in 2018, whilst Guinea dominates bauxite, with around 35 per cent of the world’s reserves.

As globalisation and industrialisation accelerate around the world, critical minerals have become a highly sought-after resource for the high-technology, low-carbon and defence industries. They will play a vital role in Britain’s future plans for economic growth, innovation and green industrialisation, especially as we renew and expand our manufacturing base in the wake of Coronavirus.

Given the national strategic and economic importance of critical minerals, the UK needs to act now and lead efforts to protect our national supply for the future. Neither we nor our Five Eyes allies can remain reliant on one producer for anything, including critical minerals. Here are four steps we should take:

Establish a New Five Eyes critical minerals reserve stockpile

The Five Eyes intelligence sharing partnership between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the USA and the UK has been in existence since 1941 and provides the perfect foundation on which we should develop a new critical minerals reserve that would end our collective vulnerability of supply.

The reserve would consist of inter-connected physical national stockpiles of critical minerals, and then extend to become a processing chain that all partners could draw on. The US already maintains stockpiles, and creating others including in Britain would lead to new jobs. The UK is never going to become resource independent, but through international co-operation we can diversify supply and refine, through innovation, the processing of these elements.

Use our international aid budget to secure critical minerals supplies

As the Foreign Office and DFID merge, the UK can align its development goals alongside diplomatic priorities. We should deploy our international aid to unleash the untapped supply of critical minerals in developing countries, effectively funding the start-up of new critical mineral mines and processing plants. This would enhance our supply of these elements and create jobs, transforming communities around the globe through trade, not just aid. China has already implemented a similar strategy in Africa, for example providing Guinea with a $20 billion loan to develop the country’s mining sector.

Create a new National Critical Minerals Council

The Government should establish a new National Council composed of metallurgists, scientists and foreign policy experts to monitor global trends in critical minerals, and advise the Government on rare earths and its strategic stockpile. Given the national security and defence procurement implications, the National Council’s establishment would help to keep this issue at the forefront of future policymaking.

Become the world’s greenest stockpiler by incentivising private sector involvement in critical minerals processing

The Government should provide funding for greater research into how we can improve the processing chain of critical minerals with a focus on how we can tighten environmental controls in this sector internationally.

The UK should establish itself as the world’s “greenest stockpiler” of critical minerals by offering incentives that encourage private sector investment in recycling processes and reward companies that contribute to the UK stockpile. We need more facilities like the University of Birmingham’s Recycling Plant at Tyseley Energy Park, which is pioneering new techniques that are transforming the recycling of critical minerals such as neodymium, which is commonly found in hard disk drives.

The Coronavirus pandemic has taught us the importance of supply chain security, whether for PPE or critical minerals. With our reputation for scientific excellence, global alliances and diplomatic networks, we can help ourselves and our allies strengthen our access to the key minerals that will power our economic growth and innovation potential for decades to come.

This is the first in a three-part series on how to boost our economy after Coronavirus.

Stephen Booth: While UK-EU talks gather momentum, Britain should continue to diversify its trading relationships.

25 Jun

Stephen Booth is Head of the Britain in the World Project at Policy Exchange.

There are signs that the UK-EU negotiations on the future relationship may be gathering some momentum.

Last week’s stock take meeting between the Prime Minister and Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, the European Commission and European Council Presidents, respectively, confirmed there will be no UK request to extend the transition period beyond December 31 this year.

Both sides agreed to inject fresh impetus into the negotiating process, with talks set to intensify in July, August and September. This marks the make-or-break period to reach a trade agreement and new arrangements in other areas such as cooperation on policing and security.

In my previous column, I argued that the nature of the impasse – essentially whether the EU is prepared to cut a deal under which the UK would be free to leave Brussels’ regulatory orbit – means that it is incumbent upon the EU to move on the key sticking points.

These are fishing and the demand for ongoing UK alignment with EU law on the “level playing field”, particularly with regard to state aid. Important UK-EU differences remain but there are encouraging signs that this is now happening.

Following her meeting with Boris Johnson, von der Leyen signalled in a speech to the European Parliament that the EU was prepared to compromise without, of course, putting into question “our principles and the integrity of our Union”.

In her speech, von der Leyen made no mention of the EU’s initial demand to maintain EU boats’ access to UK waters on the basis of the status quo. “No one questions the UK’s sovereignty on its own waters,” she said. “We ask for predictability and guarantees for our fishermen and women, who have been sailing in those waters for decades.”

Neither did von der Leyen mention the demand for ongoing alignment with EU law on state aid or a role for the Court of Justice (ECJ) in overseeing the level playing field. “It should be a shared interest for the EU and the UK to never slide backwards, and always advance together towards higher standards,” she said.

Notably, she limited her remarks on the role of the ECJ to the part it should play “where it matters” in the area of police and judicial cooperation, rather than in the wider trade deal. If the UK wishes to retain access to EU crime and policing databases, these are underpinned by EU law and there is no escaping that the Court has the role of interpreting how law applies on the EU side.

Though, as the UK has pointed out, the EU has consistently agreed treaties with non-EU countries on policing and judicial matters without requiring the ECJ to settle disputes between the two parties. Equally, the Government has said it will not agree to the extraordinary EU demand for treaty provisions that would oblige the UK to maintain its existing implementation of the European Convention of Human Rights in domestic law.

Meanwhile, there is speculation that a compromise on the level playing field is being explored, under which Britain would assert the right to deviate from the EU rules that it will inherit after the transition period expires. And, in return, the EU would have the ability to apply tariffs on British exports if regulatory divergence amounts to unfair competition.

Neither side has formally adopted the idea yet, but there are reasons to suggest it might have legs. The UK would regain regulatory independence (and the consequences), while the EU would retain the ability to control access to its market in instances where it perceived the UK was lowering standards.

Brussels would need to give up on its desire to export its regulatory model to the UK indefinitely by treaty and the UK would need to compromise on its current position that any commitments on subsides, labour and environmental rights should be exempt from dispute resolution.

It is also an idea hiding in plain sight. The EU’s draft UK trade agreement text already proposes so-called “temporary remedies” and “interim measures” in the event of non-compliance with treaty commitments.

Such a model would not be without difficulties. The UK and EU would still need to agree on the relevant benchmark for identifying a breach of level playing field commitments. The UK could insist that evidence should be required to show that the effects of divergence are harmful to open and fair competition. The EU could continue to insist that the letter of EU law is the benchmark.

Equally, the prospect of the EU using tariffs or market restrictions as a political tool to secure leverage over the UK in other areas of the agreement cannot be discounted. This has been a feature of the EU-Swiss relationship in recent years. However, this needs to be weighed against the prospect of UK-EU trade facing the full panoply of tariffs on day one, if talks break down completely and trade reverts to World Trade Organisation terms.

Critics have noted that rather than providing for managed divergence, such a mechanism would create perpetual conflict. But, ultimately, while it would be nice to avoid it, the likely reality is that the UK and the EU will face disputes in the future, just as they have in the past. This is a feature, rather than a bug, of an independent UK. Some disputes may be easily resolvable through treaty dispute mechanisms, others will require political resolution.

One way for the UK to insure itself in the event of such disputes is to diversify its trading relationships outside of the EU. And negotiations with the UK’s priority non-EU markets, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, are also intensifying over the coming months.

This week, Hiroshi Matsuura, Japan’s chief trade negotiator, called for a UK-Japan deal to be secured in just six weeks to be ready for ratification in the Japanese parliament. The challenge is to replace the existing EU-Japan agreement, which is due to expire at the end of the Brexit transition period, and Japan is insisting on a bespoke UK deal rather than a simple rollover of the existing EU agreement.

This may mean that the deal is less ambitious than the UK would like on agricultural tariffs but Japan and the UK could go further than the EU was prepared to in areas of mutual interest such as services and digital.

Unlike the Japanese deal, the talks with the US, Australia and New Zealand are about fresh deals and the talks are expected to run into next year. UK accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership is next on the agenda. India would be another potential candidate for the future.

With this week marking the fourth anniversary of the EU referendum, the contours of the UK’s international trade policy are beginning to take shape.