How Johnson compromises Britain’s economic health

British PM should seek an extension of the deadline to conclude the shape of UK-EU ties

Under Boris Johnson’s leadership Britain has again been dubbed ‘The sick man of Europe’ due to his mismanagement of Covid-19, a failure of judgement that has propelled his nation to the top of Europe’s fatality charts.

His greatest mistake was to encourage people to carry on as usual in a departure from the rest of the world in the belief that once 60-70 per cent of the population was infected, herd immunity would kick in. Polls suggest that faith in Johnson’s government is plummeting week-on-week.

Britain’s style of lockdown was too little, too late. And now that the country has been forced to open up in hopes of avoiding economic disaster, a sector of the great British public has eschewed social distancing for umbrella to umbrella fun ‘n’ sun on packed beaches, late night rave parties, street festivals and mass protests.

Keeping people at home for such an extended period has been a pressure cooker. The young are desperate to let off steam but such irresponsible behaviour which jeopardises lives is inexcusable.

Cognisant of a second wave predicted to occur in the autumn even as the first wave has yet to play out, the prime minister has warned Britons to behave else face another lockdown which would equate to another nail being hammered into his country’s economic coffin.

The UK’s divorce from the EU set to hit decree absolute status at the end of December, even as a deal fades into the realm of improbability has to some extent been placed on the media’s back burner, understandably so since most Britons are sick to death of a topic now overshadowed by a deadly plague and pressing racially-charged issues.

That said unless by some miracle Downing Street and Brussels can move to the same page, come November economists and business leaders will be hitting panic buttons.

Brexit deadline

June 30 marks the deadline ending Britain’s ability to request the EU for an extension allowing more time to conclude negotiations on the shape of British-European relations to come.

One might imagine that in light of a global pandemic that has thrust once thriving economies into the red while producing bankruptcies and massive job losses, Boris Johnson would jump at the chance to delay at least one major headache.

Not so! He has, recklessly in my opinion, informed Brussels that Britain will not be requesting an extension.

In the meantime, although negotiations are ongoing, Germany’s down-to-earth Chancellor Angela Merkel, a voice of reason, seems resigned to a no-deal scenario because bringing the parties together is beginning to look like a bridge too far.

The sides are deadlocked over Britain’s need to comply with certain EU rules and regulations a prerequisite to cementing a no-tariff trade arrangement.

This is where the problem lies. Johnson’s buddy across the Atlantic has promised to fast track a US-UK trade deal provided the British government agrees to comply with US food standards allowing American farmers to export meat and produce to the UK unhindered.

The vast majority of the British public as well as parliamentarians and UK farmers strongly reject to any lowering of food standards to include chlorinated chickens, meat from animals fed with antibiotics, steroids and hormones and Genetically Modified (GM) crops. Such lowering of food safety standards would be incompatible with the EU’s food safety practices.

Last week, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told the House of Representatives that unless Britain conceded the administration would “push this off” and in any case, firming up a deal this year would be close to impossible, he added.

President Trump’s fondness for Boris is well known but what happens to his pledge should he be deprived of a second term?

UK ‘to live with the consequences’

Johnson has expressed his willingness to negotiate constructively in the coming months but is ready to leave the EU without a deal should they not prove fruitful. In that event, the UK “would have to live with the consequences,” Merkel said.

Just what are those potential consequences? There are no certain predictions and even if they existed, public mistrust and disbelief is at its highest.

Suffice it to say that according to the Organisation for International Cooperation and Development (OECD) the UK’s economy will shrink by 11.5 percent this year which fails to account for a no-deal scenario or a second wave of Covid-19.

For the first time in decades Britain’s debt has reached almost 110 per cent of GDP which the lockdown has reduced by a quarter.

If the British PM is counting on the America First president to save the day, he should think again. Trump is known to be fickle when it comes to friendships. He is a man who respects strength and loves populist winners.

Should Boris end up against the rails amid declining public support his dream of abandoning Europe for a closer relationship with the mighty US is likely to be dashed.

Johnson would be wise to hedge his bets by asking the EU for an extension during the hours ahead before the deadline but I fear his stubborn trait has trumped his common sense.

Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at heardonthegrapevines@yahoo.co.uk.

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