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Journey chaos, U-turns and a cancelled Christmas: it is Boris Johnson’s worst week | Polly Toynbee

What bitter irony, what good symbolism, for Europe to slam its gates shut to us days earlier than Britain was due anyway to self-isolate completely with Brexit. As nation after nation bans British travellers for concern of the brand new Covid variant, the UK, excessive in deaths and financial injury, is world-beating solely as Typhoid Mary.

If there have been a God of vengeance, this new blight falling firstly on us would possibly really feel like divine punishment. For the superstitious, add in Monday’s celestial signal, the nice conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn – the closest collectively the planets have been in 400 years – reprising the star of Bethlehem. A king bearing myrrh can be grimly acceptable.

Naturally Nigel Farage claims the French are utilizing Covid to shut ports as a weapon in end-stage Brexit negotiations. That’s absurd, because it harms congested Calais as a lot as Dover. However nonetheless the unfortunate coincidence of those twin disasters has already set off panic-buying for concern of blockaded contemporary fruit and greens.

Viruses mutate past management of governments, however this authorities has not mutated in any respect, studying no classes in its harmful mishandling of each facet of the Covid-19 disaster. Occasions of the previous week expose Boris Johnson and his cupboard at their very worst – ducking, diving and denying, till a screeching last-minute U-turn.

Touring TV studios this morning, the transport secretary Grant Shapps, with eye-popping untruth, claimed he had no thought, none in any respect, that there was a brand new variant, or how alarming it was, till Friday night time’s Covid-O cupboard sub-committee assembly. In truth, Matt Hancock warned of it final Monday. Because the well being secretary advised the Home of Commons: “Now we have recognized a brand new variant of coronavirus which can be related to the sooner unfold within the south-east of England. Preliminary evaluation means that this variant is rising sooner than the prevailing variants.” He stated there have been already 1,000 instances.

As well as, final Tuesday the British Medical Journal and the Well being Service Journal mixed to warn towards the deliberate five-day Christmas free-for-all, echoed by Keir Starmer at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday. Hancock now admits the virus is “uncontrolled”.

The nation itself feels uncontrolled, a driverless practice underneath this cupboard. When that cupboard sub-committee was warned by its scientists that the brand new variant could be 70% extra transmissible, and {that a} 66% rise of infections in London would possibly quickly overwhelm the NHS, our prime minister reportedly held out. He was, apparently, final to comply with the Christmas U-turn.

Johnson’s backbench opponents accuse him of getting recognized it was inevitable whilst he mocked Starmer’s warnings at PMQs. They are saying he delayed purely to attend for recess – to keep away from a parliamentary explosion had he introduced it to his MPs. A lockdown Christmas deliberate months in the past would have been a lot much less painful for households whose hopes he pointlessly raised solely to sprint once more.

Johnson makes this mayhem worse – instructing his negotiator for the EU, David Frost, chosen for inflexible Brexitism, to drag out the method past the European parliament’s Sunday deadline. That is all optics – an try to appease Tory implacables by taking it all the way down to the wire and past.

But a deal is all however completed on every thing that issues, based on Michael Gove. Besides fish. The federal government has chosen the ocean for the ultimate battle, essentially the most emotive but least economically vital. Harrods alone provides as a lot to the UK financial system as fishing, based on the Monetary Instances.

Pause right here a second to think about what monumentally dishonest use the Brexiters make of the romance of coastal ports and fishing villages, whose 12,000 small boat fishermen are extra treasured for picturesque tourism than the worth of their catch. True, the general UK quota is traditionally unfair. However the larger injustice by far to our fishers is our personal authorities’s allocation of quotas to giant corporations. Two-thirds of the UK’s quota of fish goes to simply three multinationals; boats underneath 10m lengthy get simply 4% although they account for 77% of fishers. A Greenpeace report discovered 1 / 4 of Britain’s quota was owned by 5 households, all within the Sunday Instances wealthy checklist.

What’s extra, Britain is sort of alone in permitting holders of the UK quota to promote it to international corporations: so one Dutch ship, touchdown its fish within the Netherlands, had the appropriate to catch 23% of the UK’s quota. British “slipper skippers” have been allowed to place their toes up and reside off the earnings from promoting their quota to international corporations. If concern for our small boat fishing fleet have been actually the obstacle to an important Brexit deal, the federal government needs to be getting powerful on stopping this sell-off. If Brexit was for shielding the little boats championed in a flotilla up the Thames forward of the referendum, the place’s the pledge to take the quota off the enormous corporations to offer to them?

Regardless of the deal, the Tory backbenchers’ Faragiste wing will battle on the seashores, as they do over Covid restrictions. Final yr, Johnson noticed match to take away the whip from distinguished pro-Europeans. So why not expel the present rebels in the event that they vote towards needed Covid legal guidelines or the approaching deal? As a result of Johnson is their creature, in hock to those that elevated him, and he fears the resurrection of Farage. Worse, the Tory grassroots would choose future MPs of the identical ilk if these have been expelled.

Although challengers lurk, Johnson’s celebration will maintain him whereas he nonetheless rides oddly excessive within the polls – neck and neck with Starmer’s Labour, regardless of Covid mismanagement, disreputable Covid contracts, and the dangerous Brexit on its manner (even with a deal). Final week’s polling gave Johnson a vaccine bounce: if it rolls out successfully, euphoria could wipe away reminiscence of this atrocious winter of maladministration. But this dangerous Brexit will slow-burn, yr after yr, as Johnson’s lasting legacy.

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