Cliff Mitchell - 28/04/2020

We will be “...bringing in opposition parties...”, said the spider

Boris Johnson 27 April 2020

We must extend the Transition Period as one of the conditions of cross-party support

Boris Johnson has said he will be “...bringing in opposition parties...” to help agree a way out of the current lockdown. Good! But why didn’t he do this at the start of the pandemic? And why didn’t he do this in our other national crisis – Brexit?

Of course fighting COVID-19 should be a cross-party, national effort and should have been from the start, so why is it only now that Johnson seeks consensus? Could it be that he is looking for someone to share the blame when the inevitable reckoning comes?

“...but we will also be reaching out to build the biggest possible consensus across business, across industry, across all parts of our United Kingdom across party lines bringing in opposition parties as far as we possibly can because I think that is no less than what the British people would expect...”

Boris Johnson, 27 April 2020

The opposition parties want a cross-party approach but will be only too well aware of the  trap being laid by Johnson. It would be prudent, therefore, if they were to impose some conditions on their support.

1. Transparency

The government needs to stop the secrecy surrounding the pandemic, publish the membership and minutes of their key advisory group meetings (SAGE, etc), allow public debate of the options and issues being considered, publish all of the associated data without manipulation (such as counting a pair of gloves as TWO items of PPE), and start giving direct answers to questions. Science works by public and peer scrutiny so publishing the scientific advice and evidence they are receiving is paramount.

2. Transition Period

It is inconceivable that the Johnson government can negotiate a successful, comprehensive trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020 when the transition period is due to expire. Without such a deal, the UK will crash out on WTO terms – an economic disaster. The Withdrawal Agreement allows us to extend the transition period by up to two years but such an extension has to be agreed before 1 July 2020.

At least 20,000 people have died during the current pandemic and the number is probably nearer to 40,000, with no end yet in sight – no vaccine, no cure, only lockdown to protect us. Our government must not be distracted by anything else – there is nothing more important than our lives. So to continue pretending we can manage Brexit at the same time is a dangerous myth. And, to risk the economic disaster of Brexit on top of the economic disaster of COVID-19 is reckless beyond belief.
Opposition parties should demand an extension to the Transition Period as a condition of their support, otherwise they would be as reckless as the government.     

3. Public Inquiry

An independent, public inquiry into the governments handling of the pandemic is essential and should include:

  • Why were we so badly prepared despite numerous warnings and the pandemic threat being at the top of the governments risk list?  Why was the NHS so run down and only able to cope because of extraordinaty emergency measures? Why were there no pandemic stock piles? Why were our PPE supply chains so fragile?
  • Why was the government so slow to react? Why did we allow mass gatherings to continue despite all of the warnings? Why was the lockdown not introduced sooner.
  • Why was herd immunity strategy even considered when, in the absence of a vaccine, the scientific basis for such a strategy was so weak?
  • Why was the government’s messaging so confused and dangerous when, for example, Johnson said he had been shaking hands with Corona virus patients.

Life will not return to anything like normal this year, and perhaps not even next year and there is no doubt a cross-party approach is needed with us, the public, fully engaged in the debates and decisions that will shape our lives in the months to come. However, this government is too untrustworthy to go into such arrangements without pre-conditions, and extending the transition period must be one of those.


Cliff Mitchell
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