With the global economy facing an unprecedented depression and governments left with no alternative but to invest countless billions just to keep their national economies afloat, it is really the right time for the United Kingdom to shoot itself in the other foot.
Who knows, come December, we could all be in the grip of a second wave of coronavirus if we don’t defeat this current pandemic and get it wrong about opening up our national economies and borders again.
In effect, the UK was three weeks behind the rest of Europe in shutting down. That delay may be critical when all of this is over in determining why the death toll in the UK per 100,000 will likely surpass those in Spain and Italy
But as things stand right now, in roughly 37 weeks’ time, the transition period agreed by the UK and the European Union (EU) will end. And unless there’s a free-trade agreement in place, Britain and Brussels will be back to that dreaded no-deal Brexit scenario.
Lest you need reminding, that means that come January 1, World Trade Organisation rules on tariffs will take effect, there will be an average of 8 per cent levied on goods moving to and from the island of Britain, and British manufacturers will no longer have unfettered access to the 500 million people who together in the EU make up the world’s third-largest marketplace.
Of course, that’s presuming there are companies still around after the current Covid-19 crisis ends and things get moving again.
In effect, while the rest of Europe would be looking at a U-shaped depression, British manufacturers, trades, companies and corporations would be facing a double U-shaped recovery.
And all because Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Cabinet are determined to end its ties with the EU come December 31 to meet the rabid policies of Brexiteers.
Criticism growing louder
It’s interesting to note that for the past three weeks, as Johnson has been suffering and recuperating from coronavirus, there was little criticism in the British press of his government’s performance.
Now that he’s moving back to the centre of power, that criticism has been growing louder. And questions are being asked. Pointed questions, like how come the UK struggled to get personal protective equipment (PPE) for its front-line health workers when the EU together managed to source it much better?
Or how come officials in Whitehall passed on a plan from Brussels for the EU to purchase ventilators in bulk?
It’s always difficult for opposition party politicians to criticise a government at a time of national crisis. Do it too early, and you risk being labelled as insensitive. Too late and you are at risk of being irrelevant.
But newly-elected Labour Leader Keir Starmer and others are beginning to ask those questions — and to call for a public inquiry — into how Johnson and the others handled this crisis.
It’s one thing for Britons to stand and clap every Thursday evening for their front-line workers in the National Health Service (NHS), but quite another when it comes to those NHS workers not having enough PPE to keep them safe and using bin liners as gowns because the Johnson government missed opportunity after opportunity to adequately provide those garments.
Or failed abysmally in its promise to test 100,000 NHS workers by the end of April. It has only been able to test 18,000 with 10 days left in the month.
Even when it comes to recording the number of deaths, the UK government has got it numbers wrong. With the UK official toll around the 20,000-mark and rising by the day, deaths in care homes are still not included and some analysts and researchers say the toll could be as much as 40 per cent higher.
Johnson’s government is also facing questions as to why it allowed large gatherings such as the Cheltenham race week or the Liverpool-Atletico Madrid clash at Anfield to go ahead when nations across the EU were shutting down, banning large gatherings and were taking concerted collective measures to contain Covid-19.
In effect, the UK was three weeks behind the rest of Europe in shutting down. That delay may be critical when all of this is over in determining why the death toll in the UK per 100,000 will likely surpass those in Spain and Italy.
So given all of the above, when the Johnson government says it wants to push ahead with ending the transition period in eight months’ time and that things will be better than ever for the UK, why should it be believed?
Pushing the no-deal scenario back
Against the backdrop of Covid-19, both the UK and EU are holding talks on the future relationship between the two come January 1.
Of course it makes perfect sense that both sides would agree to a far longer transition period given the unexpected and unprecedented crisis engulfing the world, but sense has nothing to do with this. If it did, the majority of Britons wouldn’t have backed Brexit in the first instance!
The withdrawal agreement does allow for both sides to agree on an extension of the transition period for another year — pushing that dreaded no-deal scenario back to the end of December 2021.
That extension clause has to be triggered by the end of June — some nine weeks away — likely at a time where there are still restrictions on some gatherings or movement and the economy might only be in the very earliest stages of being prepped for a long and slow recovery.
For now, the British attitude is that any delay would be detrimental to their economy. Economy? What economy?