Tag: Coronavirus-2020

Brexit-Watch: Saturday 28 March 2020

Note: longer version of article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Saturday 28 March 2020

A weekend update on some recent key Brexit-relevant story headlines, choosing five which, while not necessarily meriting a full-length article, nevertheless warrant two or three paragraphs of comment, rather than merely a couple of lines.

(NB: (£) denotes article behind paywall.)

 

Coronavirus: Welsh Government calls for longer Brexit transitionBBC News 

Despite being content to sit in a Welsh Assembly which owes its existence to a devolution referendum won by a margin of only 0.6 per cent, Welsh-Labour, whose 29 Assembly Members comprise all but 2 of the current 31-member ruling coalition, has never really accepted the decision of the Welsh electorate to leave the EU by a margin ten times greater than that.  The call by current First Minister Mark Drakeford for a Brexit delay needs to be seen in that context.

In any event, this has absolutely nothing to do with the Welsh Government, which, on this issue, arguably does not even reflect the decision of the people of Wales who voted 53:47 in favour of Leave, much less represent them.  UK-wide constitutional matters are totally outwith the devolved competencies of the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government.

In all likelihood, either this is a smokescreen for Drakeford trying to deflect attention from the dire state of the Labour-run Welsh NHS, particularly with Gwent being a COVID-19 hotspot matching Italy in infection rates, or Drakeford is adding his voice to those hoping to stop Brexit by using the Coronavirus outbreak as an excuse to demand its deferral.

 

Coronavirus crisis demands extended Brexit transitionFinancial Times (£) 

Oh dear, they’re never going to give up at the irreconcilably Europhile Pink ‘Un, are they?  Tony Barber is the FT’s Europe Editor; a quick glance at his output on the FT Writers’ Page somewhat gives the game away about where he’s coming from.

Parsing the latest article, his clinching argument for claiming an extension to Transition is necessary is that the head of a Brussels-based think-tank [part-funded by the EU] claims that an extension to Transition is necessary.  However, he then somewhat undermines his own argument by stressing how far apart the two sides are on fisheries, financial services, and business-regulation in general, prompting the question that, if they are indeed that far apart, and likely to remain so given the negotiating intransigence Brussels has consistently displayed hitherto, what is the point of an extension anyway?

In his similarly-themed article of 11 March, Barber labelled anything other than an ultra-soft Brexit-in-name-only as ‘the radicalisation of Brexit‘.  Now he refers to opponents of an extension types as ‘Brexit millenarians‘.  It is hard to see this as anything other than yet more evidence that the COVID-19 crisis is being cynically exploited by Continuity-Remainers as an excuse to ‘delay’ Brexit with the ultimate aim, of course, of stopping it entirely.

 

Brexit in Hindsight: Historial ReflectionsBriefings for Britain

Another magisterial contribution from Professor Robert Tombs, separating two distinct questions which are often conflated: why, generally, did Britain vote to leave the EU, but also why specifically did it vote to do so in 2016?  Professor Tombs has little hesitation in locating the answer to the first question firmly within the very different experience of Britain compared with Continental Europe in the first half of the twentieth century, having neither succumbed internally to totalitarianism nor been militarily defeated and subsequently occupied by it, and therefore not seeing pan-Europeanism in terms of almost existential survival.

The second he sees as lying within the contrast between the pessimistic, lacking-in-confidence Britain of the 1960s which saw European integration as the remedy for economic decline, and the near-reversal of this perception by the early 2010s, in the face of visible and growing evidence of the bloc’s economic sclerosis and pursuit of political integration at the expense of democratic legitimacy.

What this suggests is that the popular determination among 2016 Leave-voters to leave the EU in fulfilment of the 2016 mandate persists at a deeper, more atavistic, level than the purely transactional considerations which Unreconciled Remainers condescendingly assume to be the main drivers of public opinion.  On this basis, the latters’ siren calls for an extension of the Brexit Transition ‘because of Coronavirus’, in the secret hope that Brexit can somehow thereby be diluted or prevented are destined for failure, making any delay superfluous. We should leave on schedule anyway.

 

EU Coronavirus summit exposes fundamental divisionsGlobal Vision

As if the EU’s hesitant response to the Europe-wide Coronavirus crisis – posturing but dithering impotently while sovereign nation-states’ democratically elected governments moved swiftly and unilaterally to meet the need to protect their own citizens – wasn’t bad enough, the third EU Coronavirus summit predictably revealed more discord than harmony.

Rather than micro-improvements such as facilitating the easier exchange of medical information or the freeing-up of supply-chains from bureaucracy, the Council instead proposed yet another comprehensive centralisation package, predicated on a common debt instrument, which has created the usual friction between the fiscally more conservative EU countries and its more fragile economies. The crisis is exposing how little nation-states can depend on an EU so often found wanting when it comes to action, despite all the talk of unity.

 

Downgrade warnings raise fears of European bank nationalisationsTelegraph (£)

Moody’s downgrade alert for banks in no fewer than six EU member-states, based on an anticipated slump in profits but a surge in bad debts linked to the Coronavirus-induced recession, comes on top of the burgeoning credit-crunch from the Eurozone’s bank-debt overhang. The author of the article, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. has also been reporting this week on the cracks appearing in the Eurozone’s institutions, now rapidly coming to a head with a stark choice between strengthening monetary union with fiscal union, with all that that would entail, or risking EMU unravelling.

The danger here for the UK is of an extension to the Brexit Transition leaving us still on the hook for a massive contribution if necessary to stave off a Eurozone banking collapse. There are numerous bad reasons for delaying our exit because of the Coronavirus emergency, and few, if any, good ones.

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Waitrose or Wuhan?

Note: Longer and updated version of article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 25 March 2020

As mainstream and social media reports of selfishly excessive panic buying and empty shelves in anticipation of government restrictions to control the spread of Coronavirus exploded into a major issue in itself last week, the public relations departments of major UK supermarkets were eager to reassure the public about continuity of supply and ease of access for elderly or otherwise vulnerable customers.

However, as stories proliferated of hoarders failing to respect so-called ‘elderly hours’, or clearing the shelves in advance of them unimpeded by supermarket staff, it was hard to avoid the impression that some supermarket chains were making ‘caring’ announcements for publicity purposes, but then doing little either to enforce them or even notify their staff of them.  That certainly appeared to be the case with one alleged ‘elderly and vulnerable only’ queue in Leamington Spa.

'Elderly & vulnerable' queue Leamington Spa

Less obvious was any great detail about the extra precautions they intended to take to prevent the spread of infection on their premises, although Aldi promised to instal clear screens at checkouts to protect employees and customers, and Tesco pledged to introduce distancing methods at checkouts to reduce customers’ infection risk.

Not before time, either: as one writer of a Letter to the Editor of a national newspaper put it, ‘Precisely how can we keep our distance while needing to shop for food?‘  

Costco Thurrock, queues distancing

In addition to that, reports had already been circulating on social media from disgruntled employees about businesses being cavalier, to say the least, about protecting even their own staff.  The example below is graphic, but by no means untypical. Read the entire thread.

So it was not without slight trepidation that, early last Saturday morning, I found myself contemplating a potentially hazardous expedition into dangerous territory, aka the local branch of Waitrose.

Now, as soon as the seriousness of the COVID-19 epidemic first became apparent, a local wine merchants not far from my home had been quick to react.  They emailed their entire customer base to say that, with immediate effect, they would provide mandatory-use hand-sanitiser and hand-washing facilities at the entrance to the store, have all trolley handles disinfected after each use, move temporarily to exclusively non-cash transactions, and hygienically wipe credit card machines after every sale.

Surely, I thought, I could expect similar precautions to be in place at a busy branch of a national, and generally regarded as up-market, supermarket chain?

Nope.  Despite my arriving within 15 minutes of opening time, the Waitrose Head Office-announcedThe first hour of business is now dedicated to elderly and vulnerable shoppers‘ policy was nowhere to be seen.  Neither were any hand-sanitising facilities, nor even requests for customers to use the adjacent washrooms for that purpose, in evidence.  As for trolley handles being sanitiser-cleaned before re-use, forget it.

Notwithstanding all the reassuring corporate PR from Head Office, anti-coronavirus precautions within the store looked almost non-existent – although, in fairness, apart from pasta and rice, the shelves were reasonably well-stocked, and anti-excess-buying measures were visibly being enforced.

But not much else.  At one stage, standing no further than one to one-and-a-half metres away from me and half-blocking the aisle, was a young woman staring vacantly at her phone (and not at a shopping list on it either, because she had a written one) while treating everyone in her immediate vicinity, including her two- or three-year-old daughter perched on her shopping-trolley child-seat, to the sound of her rasping dry cough.

At that point I began to feel seriously relieved at my decision to wear nitrile surgical gloves because of the potential for infection from trolley handles, tins, credit-card machines and the like. Apparently, the virus can linger for up to 72 hours on a hard surface.  OTT, maybe, but why take the risk when it’s there but easily avoided?  Some other customers were wearing surgical gloves too, but we must have been in a minority of 5 per cent at the most.

Which minority, remarkably, evidently did not include the servers at the in-store bakery, delicatessen, butcher and fishmonger.  The server on the cheese counter went to cut me a wedge of whatever cheese it was, unwrapping it with his bare hands, and not wearing gloves at all.  I told him to keep it.

Neither did I see any of the checkout operators using gloves, although the Saturday-job youth on the one which I used looked a touch guiltily at my own, then sheepishly produced a pair of latex surgical gloves from beneath his till and put them on.  Had they, I wondered, been issued to till operators, but no-one was verifying that they were actually being worn?  No problem either, with any cash-and-change transactions there if you wanted, and not a hint of credit-card terminals being hygiene-wiped afterwards.

On reaching home, my outer clothes made it straight into the washing machine.  I made it straight into the shower, despite having already showered before leaving.  The nitrile gloves didn’t even make it as far as home.  On the way from the trolley-deposit bay back towards my car in the car park, they went straight into a (closed) rubbish-bin.  And some answers to questions about how the virus had managed to wreak so much devastation so quickly as it spread outwards from Wuhan, China, were much clearer.

UPDATE: This article was written on the afternoon of Monday 23rd March. On Tuesday (24th), a friend visited a different Waitrose branch in my locality.  In the period from Saturday (21st), they had obviously started to get more organised. There was a one-in, one-out policy in operation to limit the numbers shopping at any one time, free disposable gloves were available, and 2-metre distance-markers had been placed at checkouts, and enforced.  Better late than never, perhaps. 

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