It’s only two and a half weeks since my last post and there are three news stories that would be really big in their own right, all happening at the same time. Each one would produce an open-mouthed look of astonishment. And yet… I find myself strangely unable to gather the right words to describe my reaction to any of them.
They are: the UK reaching the end of the transition period and actually leaving the EU, the third national lockdown following shocking rises in Covid cases and deaths and Donald Trump inciting a mob to violent insurrection in the Capitol Building in Washington DC.
End of UK’s EU Membership
The UK ended its 47-year membership of the European Union at midnight Brussels time on New Year’s Eve. New Year celebrations were muted this year because of the pandemic. But, of course, there was no cause for celebration. Johnson had achieved something of an historic moment: the enactment of the first trade deal in recorded history that actually erected trade barriers rather than removed them. The UK now has trade deals with fewer countries now that when it was an EU member.
After end of year stockpiling and the usual traffic lull over the holiday period, stories are beginning to emerge of delays at ports on the Channel and Irish Sea. A common reason is lack of preparation by traders and hauliers and incomplete paperwork. Companies such as John Lewis, Debenhams, Waterstones, Fortum and Mason and M&S have either ceased or suspended sales into the EU (include Ireland, North and South), either because of the disruption or because they see it as no longer an economically viable proposition. And supermarkets report empty shelves in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, customers in the EU are finding VAT and customs charges demanded by their postal organisations for online purchases from the UK. Here’s an Irish perspective. It’s easy to predict that a lot of customers in EU countries will be deterred from placing orders from UK-based sites when online shopping. And, of course, as a third country airline passengers are being turned back at EU airports as our “plague island” status makes us no longer exempt from EU travel bans.
The real tragedy of all this is that every one of these problems were predictable – and predicted by those of us who wanted to remain in the EU.
Whilst the cabinet and Prime Minister were distracted by EU trade negotiations, cases of Covid-19 have been rising and rising. And all at a time when the government’s full attention should have been on policies and communications to reduce the spread of the virus. And so England finds itself in its third nationwide lockdown of the pandemic, announced last Monday with just a few hours’ notice.
So, let’s just track back what has happened in recent weeks:
- In late September, scientists and Keir Starmer advocated a 2-week “circuit breaker” lockdown just as the new variant of the virus was emerging. The government did nothing, apart from some tinkering with the tier system.
- In early November, as the case for stricter measures became unanswerable, a necessarily longer 4-week second lockdown was imposed.
- In early December, after Lockdown 2, Johnson announced a 5-day relaxing of the household mixing rules over the Christmas period. People naturally saw this as a “green light” for something of a 5-day “holiday” from restrictions. Plans were made, train tickets booked.
- As Covid cases kept rising, just a few days before Christmas, Johnson cut the Christmas relaxation to just Christmas Day. Families cancelled plans, tried to get refunds on train tickets. (Remember, no trains run in England on Christmas Day and Boxing Day). Meantime, Education Secretary Williamson stated keeping schools open was a “national priority”. Local authorities, who had better local information of local spikes in cases, were overruled when they tried to close their schools. Greenwich Council was threatened with legal action to enforce the “national priority”. An opportunity was missed to control mixing between households in schools in hotspot areas in the runup to Christmas.
- Families mixed on Christmas Day, with Government blessing, allowing the virus to spread within extended families. Teachers made plans for a Covid-safe phased reopening in the New Year.
- On January 4th, schools reopened. This allowed the virus which had spread within families on Christmas Day to spread again between families with school-aged children.
- On that same day, Johnson announced Lockdown 3 and the closure of all schools the following day. Teachers scrambled to rearrange their plans back to home schooling.
- On January 5th, schoolchildren stayed at home, along with some parents working from home, thereby enabling them to bring their newly school-acquired infection into the family home once again.
So, in summary, the Governments actions – and inactions – encouraged the virus to spread between families in the runup to Christmas, within families at Christmas, between families again on the one day of schooling and finally within families again from last Tuesday. Add to this the delays to Lockdown 1 in March and “Eat out to Help Out” in the summer, which kept Covid case numbers bubbling along at higher levels for the autumn that they need have been. Can anyone think of a worse possible way this could have been handled? I can’t.
And yet Johnson and Williamson are still in post. Parliament passed a vote of no confidence against Neville Chamberlain because he was so useless. He resigned and on May 10 1940, he was replaced by some other bloke with a name like an insurance company. The rest, as they say, is history.
So, how come only 43 percent in a very recent poll want Johnson to stand down? (Those wanting him to stay number nearly 40 percent. I don’t understand: what do these folk want him to do before they change their views? Slaughter all first-born? Whoops! That’s me gone.) As I’ve said before, we need a Government of National Unity.
Mob Rule in Washington
And so to America, the “shining city on a hill” of democracy.
It’s only in the last few days that I’ve ever in my life had the following thought: that is now within the bounds of possibility that the USA will descend into a second Civil War. And that is a truly shocking thought!
I don’t think there’s any doubt now that Trump incited a mob to march on the Capitol and commit acts of violent insurrection. Impeach him tomorrow; simple as that. Get his stubby fingers off the nuclear codes. Immediately.
But the poison Trump spread will linger. It’s truly an awful prospect. We will no doubt return to this subject again, Meantime, good luck Joe Biden!
They’re Only Words
And yet the most frustrating thing is this. My words and those of professional commentators are just that. Words. I feel they won’t change anything. Words – reasoned argument – implies reason. Certainly Trump and a sinister cohort of his followers are way beyond reason. And this is all happening in a country with more privately-owned guns than people.
So we continue. With our words. For words are all I have. And Hope – for the best.