So far, the Johnson government has hidden behind the Covid outage to divert attention from the aftermath of Brexit.
But not for much longer. The chaos caused by the removal of Team GB’s economy from the single market and the abandonment of Northern Ireland within is already apparent. It is also very clear that the Northern Ireland trade disruption cannot be attributed to or confused with Covid-induced damage.
Until now, the British economy has been suffering from what we could call a Brexdemic. Much of the huge collapse in production in 2020 can be attributed to the Covid crackdown, and the same is true for many other economies. But we have had the additional damage caused by Brexit. This is a country that seems addicted to self-harm.
Day by day we see evidence of insanity. The good work of half a century of close integration in Europe is unraveling. The inconvenience and disruption make the above complaints about the “Brussels bureaucracy” seem like a joke in bad taste.
Ironically, as my colleague Phillip Inman pointed out in this space last week, the so-called red-wall seats of the Northeast are being hit especially hard. How long will it be before so many Brexiters realize they have been “duped”?
A general dawn of reality on Brexit would be good news for Keir Starmer, who has been too eager to please Labor Brexit voters rather than gently correct them. In what context, it’s good news that Labor’s new shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves recently used an interview with him Financial times make clear that Labor wants to work with Brussels to fill the “gaps” in Johnson’s Brexit deal.
In a delicate use of understatement of English, Reeves said Johnson had a “blind spot” when it came to relations with the EU. Unfortunately, I fear it is not so much a blind spot as outright hostility, as his deputy is the so-called negotiator David Frost, who did not learn much about diplomacy during his not very successful career at the Foreign Office. Given that 80% of the economy represented by services barely entered the “deal,” Reeves would have justified himself by using the word “chasms” instead of “loopholes.”
But he is not yet chancellor. Rishi Sunak is, and his reputation has thus far benefited from the contribution of the licensing scheme and the temporary boost to universal credit payments. But the National Institute for Economic and Social Research estimates that the end of the licensing scheme will put another 150,000 people out of work, and Sunak has resisted calls for an extension of the universal credit push.
Whether you call what is happening now a “recovery” or simply the reopening of those parts of the economy that have not collapsed, the outlook is fraught with risk. Not surprisingly, the International Monetary Fund and so many independent observers are calling for caution against any tightening of monetary and fiscal policy.
In the midst of the fray, there is much speculation about an alleged disagreement between a supposedly high-spending prime minister and a fundamentally low-tax, low-spending chancellor who wishes to clamp down. But even the formerly burly Thatcherist William Hague now think that large government and state intervention are more than just a temporary resource required by Covid. The winds of change are blowing over economic policy, both in the US and the eurozone, and the UK should take note.
However, “Yond Cassius looks thin and hungry.” Sunak is generally thought to be “on the move,” bracing himself for the possibility that Teflon will finally disappear from its next-door neighbor in Downing Street, of which there have been early signs recently.
In my opinion, Sunak has already doomed himself to the rubbish for defending Brexit and for his shameful role in cutting foreign aid. Those who oppose Johnson shouldn’t have too much hope if he is eventually ousted.
And it’s not just Brexit. It’s what Brexit brought in its wake: the erosion of respect for the rule of law and widespread corruption and tightening of the rules. This was recently captured by Annette Dittert, head of the London office of Germany’s public broadcaster, in an article in the New statesman entitled The politics of lies. As she points out, it was Dominic Cummings and Johnson who “first ushered in the era of post-truth in Britain, thus destroying the very basis on which a minister, or even Johnson, can still be held accountable.”
As Juvenal, one of my favorite Roman poets, observed: Who looks at the cyou? (Who is going to protect the guards themselves?) Take a step in front of the leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer. If ever there was a well-qualified Labor leader to initiate the fight against the standards of this government, it is a former director of the prosecution.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism