Yesterday, after the COBRA meeting, Johnson told the nation what the government hopes to achieve with the measures he proposed. They are all over the MSM so I won’t repeat them here. It’s illuminating though to check who the critics are, what they are criticising and why. Remainers of course again demanded extensions to our Brexit timetable because of the coronavirus pandemic (link)
Let’s firstly look at Brexit and the Trade negotiations. From Brussels Joe Barnes writes in the Express:
“With over 200 UK and EU officials set to meet in London on March 18, negotiators have decided to call off the next round of negotiations as part of an effort to stop the spread of the deadly virus. After failing to reach a positive conclusion in Brussels last week, the delay will only add to the time pressure on both sides to conclude a deal before the end of the Brexit transition period after December 31. The Government maintains that it will not agree to a one-off extension, which would see Britain continue to follow the EU’s rules and regulations for up to two years, after it was enshrined into law.” (link)
That ought to be clear enough. The reason is obvious and should surprise no-one, nor that the staff of the Frost and Barnier teams are trying to sort out how best to manage this. It’s entertaining to see though that the EU diplomats – a.k.a. ‘sources’ – are inadvertently emphasising Mr Frost’s remarks:
“Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, is expected to publish a new plan, based on his previous mandate after it is circulated to member states tonight. One EU diplomat said the new position will present the bloc’s “take-it-or-leave-it” offer to Britain. Mr Barnier is said to be furious with his UK counterpart, David Frost, for claiming the consequences of Brexit were yet to sink in with Brussels. Describing the plan, an ally of Boris Johnson said: “We are producing the text because we are ready to do it. It is not a bespoke trade deal — it is a text based on the precedent of deals the EU has already struck with sovereign third countries.” (link)
Well, that’s Barnier at his finest – demonstrating that David Frost was right. Moreover, the British plan will only fleshing out the points made in the government’s position paper published for March 1st (here).
Meanwhile, two Labour MPs (Paul Blomfield and Thangam Debbonaire, their EU Exiting Shadow whatevahs) were demanding that ministers tell Parliament everything about those negotiations because >> “scrutiny” (link, paywalled). They don’t seem to have noticed that their text has become just a bit irrelevant, thanks to the virus epidemic:
“Accountability in these talks matters. The uncertainty of the past three years has been replaced by a new uncertainty, as the government stumbles towards a weak deal that will hit our trade and damage our security. Business is deeply worried, and rightly so. Jobs and livelihoods are on the line. Deviating from the commitments in the political declaration will affect our relations with countries beyond the EU. […] What has the government to hide? Why avoid the scrutiny of our elected representatives? What is to be gained by refusing to answer questions from all sides of the House, from MPs representing all the nations and regions? It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they want to prevent discussion of how a bad deal might affect the economy, jobs and growth.” (link, paywalled)
Amazing, isn’t it, how Remainers seem to be oblivious to what is actually going on, here and in their precious EU! It’s as if the coronavirus outbreak will have less effect than this ‘hard Brexit’ they still bemoan.
Some journalists however point out that this outbreak shows that ‘the nation state is back’ – e.g. Fraser Nelson in the DT (paywalled link). The evidence from the EU demonstrates that the ‘free movement’ in the Schengen area has been kicked into touch with more and more countries either already closing their borders or pondering to do so. Nigel Farage observes in the DT:
“Everybody is looking after Number One. […] the idea of a bloc such as the EU being willing or able to guarantee the safety and security of all of its members is surely shattered.” (paywalled link)
And then there’s Ms Lagarde of the ECB, who gave the much-vaunted ‘EU Solidarity’ a jolly good kick, making the stocks especially in the EU markets tumble even further, as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reports in the DT:
“Christine Lagarde has thrown the gauntlet at the feet of eurozone governments, protesting vehemently that European Central Bank cannot be Europe’s saviour as Covid-19 devastates the bloc’s economy. […] Mrs Lagarde described the economic shock from Covid-19 as “very severe” but short-lived, so long as “the right policy measures are decided by all players”. She reiterated her call for “collective” fiscal action – code for burden-sharing, so far invisible – and was withering in faint praise for the token package on the table worth 0.25pc. Her chief worry is “complacency” in national capitals.” (paywalled link)
In contrast, Sir John Redwood disagrees, writing in his Diary entry today that the ECB has done the right thing but then underlines the ECB’s difficulties in implementing overarching measures:
“The ECB thinks a fiscal stimulus is needed at the same time, as the UK authorities arranged. The ECB cannot be sure this will happen. The Treaty rules make it unlikely, unless they find a way of authorising temporary extraordinary measures.The ECB wants governments to make banks lending to distressed businesses more likely by offering loan guarantees financed by taxpayers. Again, it cannot guarantee this will happen.” (link)
Sir John Redwood has put the finger on why the ECB’s measures are bound to be ineffective. Nevertheless, RemainCentral’s John Kempfner wails that this crisis “could have revived a sense of solidarity with the continent”, lambasting the government:
“The terrible events of the past month or so could have revived a sense of solidarity with the continent. Instead the UK is acting as though Europe poses only danger.” (link, paywalled)
Oh dear! Let’s be nice to the EU and let their people come here, infected or not, right? And then he goes full Kumbaya:
Out of this horror, is it too much to hope for a world where collaboration is seen as essential to problem solving? It feels at the moment like this crisis will only reinforce the global trend towards narrow nationalism, towards individual countries deluding themselves that they can do it on their own.” (link, paywalled)
He doesn’t seem to have noticed that in such crisis a government’s first duty is towards their own citizens and seems to think that the evidence from EU member states closing their borders to each other must be bad because it’s ‘nationalistic’.
For Remainers, overarching supranational entities are always best, so it’s no surprise that in another article RemainCentral lambast the WHO for its lack of action, concluding:
“The WHO could and should be the ultimate authority and the ultimate resource for health security, yet much like the IMF in the early days of the crisis, it needs beefing up. Perhaps that means more money. Perhaps it means creating a new independent body which could fight pandemics without fear of closure if it said something awkward to a superpower. Whatever the solution, this, like 2008, is a moment for world leaders to reinforce global institutions.” (link, paywalled)
If not even their beloved EU with their wonderful councils, ECB and all, has been able to stop the spread of the coronavirus how would the WHO have been able to do so? Does this ‘event’ not show that nation states are better at safeguarding their citizens than supranational entities?
Meanwhile, back in the UK, ‘experts’ are happily criticising Johnson for not doing everything at once, like school closures, while pointing out at the same time that the pandemic will have consequences for the economy. What effect for our economy school closures will have when most of the mums are working – that’s irrelevant, it seems, because granny will stay with the kids … oh wait … !
For them, it’s a competition about who can implement which stark measures first – France and Spain are now closing their schools and perhaps even borders (here and here) as case numbers and the death toll rise. Interestingly, Remain doesn’t make much of the Mayor of London’s advice that school closures would worsen the virus spread (link). They also prefer to quote ‘experts’ who criticise if not condemn what Johnson has done – step forward, Jeremy Hunt! (link). In contrast the DM has asked other experts who think the government plans are sensible. Read the whole thing here.
It’s not really astonishing that the critics of Johnson’s handling of this crisis are those who believe that only measures such as those taken by China will help, notwithstanding scientific debates about ‘flattening the curve’, as even promoted by the WHO. That Italy’s harsh measures haven’t worked there is apparently an irrelevancy.
Johnson is keeping harsher measures for later, it seems. It is a fine balancing act and might just work if we all do ‘our bit’, like cocooning and washing hands while leaving it to local communities to decide about closing schools and cancelling football and rugby matches.
In conclusion I wonder what the Johnson critics would have said if he’d gone ‘full Italy’ right now. I do despise those though who, in their Remain zeal, would rather see Johnson fail than help to make this work, for all our sakes.
So as always, look after yourselves, decide how you can best cope with this outbreak – one size doesn’t fit all – and more than ever remember to