“Brexit” wasn’t mentioned at all when Rishi Sunak stood up in parliament to present his Spending Review last week. He did say that the economy was experiencing its worst dip in 300 years, pushing government borrowing to its highest peacetime level. But the government had done wonders to keep things afloat! And if things were grim, it was all the fault of the coronavirus...
Indeed, according to Sunak this has nothing to do with Brexit “uncertainty”, nor the ongoing capitalist crisis from which no country in the world has, nor will, fully “recover”. He said absolutely nothing about the further 4% Brexit dip to come, whether there is a trade deal or not. Nor the predicted extra 2% per year “hit” to GDP if there is no deal!
This Brexiteer Chancellor is singing the same song as his boss, that “Britain will prosper mightily”, deal or no deal - whether it’s true or not. And of course it’s codswallop.
Negotiations, going right to the wire, are currently stuck on the issue of fishing rights, even though fishing contributes just 0.1% to British GDP: it’s all hanging on how the (free) fish get shared out between British and EU boats.
Currently non-British boats catch 35% of their fish along the British coast, and chief negotiator “Lord” Frost, is trying to use this “leverage” for all it’s worth, claiming that these are all “British” fish! Now that Britain is leaving the EU, it must be allowed to “take back control” of “its” waters and assert its “independence”!
As if, in this inter-connected, small world which we all share, there could really be such a thing as “independence”. Whatever Frost may say, the real issue is in fact Britain’s “dependence” on the EU. Just like farming, fishing needs the EU market. As much as 70% of the catch is sold in Europe. If subjected to “no deal” tariffs, Britain’s fishing industry will collapse! And it’s not just about fish: in 2019, 43% of all British exports went to the EU.
So Frost will have no option but to melt. There will have to be a deal, not just for the sake of fishing, but for the car industry which needs to maintain its supply chain; for the NHS to carry on getting its vital medicines; for students to pursue their studies; for the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement to remain intact. And even so, the red tape and checks are going to cause huge hold-ups.
Already this break with Europe has done damage. Most recently, in the face of a Covid pandemic, it has deprived the NHS of nurses and doctors who no longer felt welcome in Britain.
We can, however, hope that after Brexit, the absurdity of national borders and the rules preventing free movement of people and things, will become obvious to all, along with the need to get rid of them for good!
Johnson on the ropes over tiers and business fears
The vote on Johnson’s system of 3-Tier Covid restrictions, obviously went in favour of the government, thanks to the 80 seat majority Johnson achieved in last year’s general election. The biggest rebellion so far, this time of 55 of his MPs, could not defeat the motion.
It’s no great revelation that so many Tory MPs choose to argue for the life of profit, i.e., cold, hard, money, above the lives of the working class, who are most at risk from Covid. And that they are opposed to these restrictions, put in place to control the spread of the virus, imperfect though they are.
Labour’s Starmer went to great lengths to pick them apart, pointing to the problems of test, trace and isolate and the danger of a relaxation of social mixing at Xmas. But he just puts his “concern for business” the other way round, saying the virus must be controlled, to avoid damage to the economy.
In the meantime, both inside and outside of parliament the anti-lockdown, pro-“individual freedom” brigade is growing. And ironically, it puts Johnson, who’d probably prefer to be with them if he were not PM, on the wrong side of populism. Among these protesters are the same crew who yelled for Brexit, who said “All Lives Matter” against the Black Lives Matter movement - and who express anti-vaxxer madness and crazy conspiracy theories.
Yet if it were not for Johnson’s chaotic and equivocal mishandling of the pandemic in the first place, there would have been little space for opposition to anti-Covid measures to grow. So if his authority as PM is in question, just 11 months after his election landslide, he has himself to blame. He can only hope that the “scientific cavalry” carrying 370m doses of vaccine arrives sooner rather than later, so that restrictive measures can be relaxed for good. Because that may be the only way for him to save his political neck.