I have two drafts for this blog, both begun weeks ago, waiting to be finished. They are structured and I have all the evidence and the ideas. On what, you might ask? On our hopeless government and its incompetence in dealing with the Covid pandemic, of course. With these, as with this piece, the aim is not to rant but to pull together the evidence and set out an appraisal of what has happened over these past months. But where to start, because I have despaired at not just the sheer incompetence and the slow start of our government to actually comprehend what they had to deal with, and all down to the sheer laziness of our leader, no it’s the wasted millions of our money on useless procurement, and the actual corruption of this government with contracts awarded to private firms without the usual tendering process that renders me near to speechlessness, and wonder, actually, that we are not all out on the streets demanding retribution. And all based on an ideology of neoliberalism with the aim to have everything, everything run by private companies, which is absolutely the bedrock of their thinking.
I take our great leader to task not only for his ideology but for his pooterish statements that has led to the constant use of aggressive symbolism such as ‘we are wrestling the virus to the ground’ and phrases such as ‘world-beating’, which is used over and over again to describe the faulty testing and tracing we have in the UK. One day I happened to stumble across the Scottish leader, Nicola Sturgeon, issuing a press statement on the necessity of a lockdown in Aberdeen, and rather envied the Scots for her quiet, calm clarity and her ability to admit that she didn’t have the answer to a question from the press. To give you insight to his mind (yes, we actually need to do this) I give you a long quote from an article by Ferdinand Mount in the London Review of Books, which within it had a quote from Johnson’s speech at the Painted Hall in Greenwich on the glories of free trade. Can you see where this piece is going?
“We are starting, Johnson claimed, ‘to hear some bizarre autarkic [?] rhetoric, when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion of the right of the populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other.’ “
I dare say the above went down well with this audience, but there you go, some country willing to take off its Clark Kent specs…..? Unbelievable self-important and stupid meaningless rhetoric. The article then goes on to dissect Johnson’s first calamitous months not dealing with Covid-19. But, yes, where are we with our ‘oven-ready’ (another favourite) trade deal? Who can say what is happening with our last minute Brexit talks? I don’t see much about this in the media. And yet some critically important steps should be taken if we are not to crash out with a no-deal. Remember that? It really is the undiscussed elephant in the room.
According to Anand Menon (see below for reference) both the EU and the Brits do want a deal. But as his article then goes on to highlight the differences between the two sides, a deal is in no way a certainty. So where are we exactly?
First of all, the United Kingdom left the EU at midnight on 31 January 2020, and we are now in a transition period until 31 December 2020. In this transition period all EU rules and regulations are still applied to the UK and nothing has changed. So if some of the 52% who voted to leave are thinking, ‘well, can’t see much difference’, there is no difference – yet.
There are some areas that have been agreed in a new(ish) Withdrawal Agreement signed by Johnson, which are:
- The rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU
- Our financial liabilities to the EU
- And border protocols (as in border checks, something that was promised would never happen) between Ireland and Northern Ireland
What has not been agreed is any future trade deal. Neither have any frameworks been agreed for cross-national collaboration on security, terrorism, mutual recognition of qualifications, financial services, farming, fishing, data policy, aviation – the list could go on and on and on. Look at it this way, the UK and the EU are linked by intricate contracts, regulations and rules that ease the passage of goods and services and peoples across and between the nations of Europe. I think the best way to see this is think of a huge wall made up of multi-coloured lego bricks built over many years. Then one day someone, who came in a bit later than the ones who had begun building the wall, said, ‘I’d like my bricks back.’ This leaving is complicated.
What are the sticking points? The answer is that there are many, but perhaps the most significant is that with regard to trade the EU would like a ‘level playing field’ so that there isn’t a competitor on their doorstep undercutting EU firms, and therefore wants guarantees and commitments on standards. Meanwhile the very last thing the UK apparently wants is any EU regulation post Brexit. Indeed, our chief negotiator, has said that the whole point of the project is to not have any EU supervision and to ask for it is to fail to see the whole point of the UK leaving the EU. Talks have now ceased for the summer (there never seems to be any urgency on the part of politicians with this holidaying during pandemics and these negotiations with the EU) and the two sides are therefore not anywhere near to getting a trade deal.
A deal needs to be agreed between the two parties by the end of October in order for it to be ratified by EU member states, and there is always a possibility that a deal might be agreed. Menon argues that in the time left for this to happen, it would be a ‘thin’ one, on just tariffs and quotas, everything else would have to be negotiated over many months if not years.
Johnson won the election on getting Brexit done, and I write this so that if a trade deal of sorts is negotiated, and see above, it will only be of the thin kind, do not fall for the line that this is Johnson’s triumph. This will cost us. Modelling from the institute, UK in a Changing Europe, estimates that the negative impact over ten years would be 6.4% of GDP, and 8.1% if there is a no-deal and we crash out on WTO terms. Incidentally this model points to much less damage coming from Theresa May’s deal at 4.9%.
Today it has been announced that the UK is officially in recession, the deepest since records began with our gross domestic product falling by 20.4% in the second quarter, by far the worst fall of any of the G7 countries, and all due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is such a shame that at the end of the year we add to this financial disaster through a self-inflicted wound that began with our vote to leave the EU.
Penny Kocher, 12 August 2020
Anand Menon, In case you’d forgotten. Anand Menon on the Brexit talks. London Review of Books Vol 42, Number 16, 13 August 2020
Ferdinand Mount, Superman Falls to Earth. Ferdinand Mount of Boris Johnson’s first year. London Review of Books Vol 42, Number 13, 2 July 2020
Richard Partington, Covid-19: UK economy plunges into deepest recession since records began. The Guardian, 12 August 2020