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Friday, January 1, 2021

My New Year's Wish, Christmas ends in Tiers, Brexit Deal Struck.

For the first time I haven't been celebrating the dawn of a New Year, although I did raise a glass and say 'good riddance' to 2020. Along with the pandemic disruption, we are also living through our final parting with the European Union as we welcome in a year of hope.

I can confidently predict that 2021 is going to be another very difficult year, but better than 2020. Two December events summarise this simply:

  • RIP Debenhams after 242 years and Goodbye Arcadia. 25,000 employees lose their jobs, the final two in a long list of High Street retailers who closed for the last time in 2020.
  • UK becomes the first country to authorise use of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, with almost one million doses already administered in December. On December 30th, the UK authorised the use of the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine, which is likely to be a game changer on a global scale. It is cheap (produced at cost of £2-£3) and can be stored in a regular fridge for up to 6 months making its roll out much easier at GP's practices, in Care Homes, rural communities and in less developed countries.
Saving the World

My New Year's Wish

Plan for the next pandemic. Don't simply try to go back to 'business as normal'. Accept that the way we live has changed forever.

World Health Organisation 

WHO wants end to ‘panic-then-forget’ approach to epidemics.

“We cannot, cannot, cannot let the world forget, because the next one may not be anything but the worst one,” said Ryan, a medical doctor and specialist in public health and communicable disease control. “This [Covid-19] may just be a harbinger of what may come.”

Ryan made the comments at a United Nations event in October that included public health officials from Finland, France, Indonesia and other country representatives. They echoed his view that governments have to use Covid-19 to learn lessons for dealing with future epidemics.

Underpinning this is a body of science that says the doubling of the human population to 7.7 billion in the past 60 years has created increased friction with wildlife habitats in competition for land, water and food. This creates opportunity for animal-borne pathogens to hop to humans and evolve to cause epidemics, just as the virus causing Covid-19 is thought to have done.

Well before this disease arrived, the WHO warned of the increased rate of so-called zoonotic diseases arising in human populations, or those that originated in animals. The health body estimates that 70 per cent of emerging diseases of the past 50 years are zoonotic, explaining why terms such as bird flu, Sars and mad cow disease became conversation topics.

SCMP, December 10th 2020

Christmas ends in Tiers

On Saturday December 19th at 4pm in the afternoon, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, made a live broadcast reversing his earlier decision to allow people 5 days to travel and mix over Christmas. This is just his latest U-turn in a catalogue of U-turns and late decisions marking his poor leadership in 2020. Here's a little look at some of the key decisions:

UK Lockdown started on March 24th 2020, the last of major European neighbours, at least two weeks too late. Johnson had refused to stop some key sports events which is where the virus spread rapidly. As an island, we could have restricted the spread more effectively if Johnson had taken it seriously at the time. This led to the UK having one of the worst death rates in the world. Taiwan is an island of 24 million people next to the source of the outbreak in China and they have managed the pandemic so well locally that they have only 7 recorded deaths. UK is now 70,000+ deaths.

We will have a World Class Track and Trace system said Johnson. The first one was binned after spending millions and finding it didn't work. The current one is pretty ineffective and does not appear to form a key part of the government's strategy. If it does, it's not working.

The government refused to use teacher predictions for this summer's A Level results that pupils had been unable to sit. Instead a grossly unfair algorithm was used. The government eventually performed a U-Turn.

The government categorically refused to allow pupils eligible for free school meals to be given meal vouchers for the summer holidays. After a high profile media backed campaign by Marcus Rashford, a footballer, the government performed a U-Turn.

Matt Hancock, the Health Minister promised "We will reach 100,000 coronavirus tests per day by 1st May." In fact the number fell far short of this but he lied by double counting some of the test to get to the 100,000 figure. It would be another two weeks until this level of daily tests would be reached.

On December 21st, the government announced it would prosecute Greenwich council following their decision to close secondary schools a few days early in order to help stop the spread of the virus. Greenwich caved in and kept their schools open saying a court battle was not good use of public money. On December 30th, the government announced that all secondary schools would not open in the New Year for most pupils for at least two weeks and a testing regime would be put in place. Greenwich now has 3 times the national average coronavirus cases.

Johnson and his bunch of clowns have made more U Turns that Jeremy Clarkson

And then there is Brexit, by far his biggest mess to date:

Boris Johnson regularly campaigned using the term 'oven ready' to refer to his Brexit package. As we now know, this was all complete nonsense: 

Speaking at a Nissan factory in the North East of England alongside former Labour MP Gisela Stuart, he said: "It's absolutely vital we protect supply chains, we protect Nissan motors, and we make sure people continue to invest in our country. And they will."

"What I think businesses large and small want to see is certainty about the arrangements we can deliver."

"And the thing about the deal we've got ready-to-go is it does protect the supply chains, it keeps them intact, it makes sure we have complete equivalence when it comes to our standards, our industrial requirements and all the rest of it."

Brexit Deal Struck on Christmas Eve and we have finally left the EU agreements today

Having been sold an 'Oven-Ready' Brexit Deal by Johnson, the negotiations went right down to the wire as expected. Finally, on Christmas Eve, both sides announced they had reached a deal and got everything they wanted. Here are some of the key points:

On Trade, there will continue to be free trade on goods (but not on services which represent 80% of UK GDP), but there will be customs paperwork to be completed from Jan 1st. Professional qualifications (e.g. doctors, nursers, lawyers, architects) no longer recognised.

Remainer View: Paperwork will slow down the passage of goods, increase the costs and make the UK less attractive for trade. Financial services, one of the UK's biggest tax contributors is not covered and its fate is unclear. Our professions will take a hit and may become excluded from EU related work.

Brexiteer View: Our ability to trade more freely with the rest of the world will leave us better off.

On Travel, there will be extra checks for UK passengers into the EU, a limit of 90 days stay per annum and the current EHIC medical cover will expire when your card ends to be replaced by something still undefined. EU pet passports no longer valid and UK mobile phone companies can charge for roaming.

Remainer View: The cost of travel to our neighbours will go up and there will be delays crossing borders for UK passport holders. Inbound tourism will be more difficult.

Brexiteer View: This will enable us to better protect UK borders and keep out undesirables.

On Fishing (0.1% of GDP) if anyone cares, there will be a 25% reduction in EU catch phased in over 5 years to be followed by a new agreement thereafter.

Remainer View: Fishing represents just 0.1% of our GDP yet is has driven the Brexit negotiations. Despite this, UK fishermen don't appear happy with the deal.

Brexiteer View: Taking back control is what we voted for.

EU Court of Justice, Kirchberg, Luxembourg

The European Court of Justice will no longer rule over the UK.

Remainer View: This may lead to big disputes over 'level-playing field'. The UK can only retain tariff free access to the EU if it abides by similar rules and standards.

Brexiteer View: Taking back control is what we voted for.

On Security, the UK will lose automatic access to key databases and will no longer be a member of Europol. However, some level of co-operation and access will continue.

Remainer View: This will make policing our borders and preventing terrorism harder.

Brexiteer View: Taking back control is what we voted for.

On Education, the UK will no longer participate in the Erasmus programme which allows EU students to study in each other's universities to promote cultural exchange, understanding and learning.

Remainer View: “There will be a relative loss of income for British universities, but from a diplomatic and ambassadorial point of view, the loss is invaluable,” said Sean Hand, the vice president in charge of Europe at the University of Warwick, the second-largest source of Erasmus students from Britain.

Brexiteer View: The UK will set up a new programme named after Alan Turing. In January, Johnson said there was “no threat to the Erasmus scheme.” (Another Boris U-turn).

On Financial Services (7% of GDP), nothing. "Accounting firm EY estimates that more than £1 trillion of assets in the sector has moved from London to the EU since 2016." City AM

What it all really means and how any of us will be impacted by the changes will take years to really understand. But I am sure we will survive, even if we are worse off financially and culturally as a result.

The EU 27

Let's start the year with a non political quote:

"Whoever said money can't buy happiness clearly didn't know where to shop" Blair Waldorf, Gossip Girl

"Whoever said money can't buy happiness, clearly didn't know where to shop" Blair Waldorf, Gossip Girl

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