In Depth

Instant Opinion: Boris Johnson could ‘smuggle bad Brexit’ through coronavirus crisis

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Wednesday 6 May

The Week’s daily round-up highlights the five best opinion pieces from across the British and international media, with excerpts from each.

1. Rafael Behr in The Guardian

on how the Brexit clock is still ticking

Will Johnson smuggle a bad Brexit through the coronavirus crisis?

“When Boris Johnson was a journalist he was a notorious breacher of deadlines. Officials and ministers say he carried that attitude into politics. His career has been fuelled by adrenaline wrung from the last minute of every decision, which means he has probably not yet given much thought to Brexit transitional arrangements. They expire at the end of the year. If an extension is wanted, the deadline for seeking one is 30 June. In trade negotiating time, that is soon. But in coronavirus time it is a faraway horizon. Making the case for a longer transition are trade specialists, economists and diplomats. They understand how hard it is to bridge the gap between London and Brussels in the time available, even without a pandemic. They dread the impact of talks failing amid a Covid-induced slump and can see that the crisis has slowed progress.”

2. Daniel Finkelstein in The Times

on the opportunities that follow catastrophe

Let’s not make the mistakes of 1945 again

“Churchill and his cigar are recalled this week but so too, perhaps just as strongly, is the Labour landslide of Clement Attlee that the VE Day crowds voted for. When this is all over, and we have gone back to some sort of normal existence, won’t it be time once again for the spirit of 1945? I share the view that Attlee was a great man. This despite the fact that he didn’t impress his contemporaries, wasn’t particularly decisive and wasn’t much of an orator. As Isaiah Berlin wrote to The Economist: ‘That any speech of Mr Attlee’s would be arid and uninspiring is, unfortunately, to be taken for granted; he touches nothing that he cannot dehydrate.’ For all these deficiencies, as John Bew successfully argues in his recent Attlee biography, Citizen Clem, there are few politicians who have seen to success so many of the dreams and ideas of their youth. The creation of the National Health Service and welfare state were durable achievements that rightly inspire us now. Yet when the spirit of 1945 is brought to mind, it is worth also remembering the spirit of 1950. Within five years that huge Labour majority was gone, the enthusiasm for Attlee and his ministers dissipated.”

3. Michael Nazi-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester, in The Daily Telegraph

on the UK’s route out of lockdown

We need to start reopening our society, not just the economy

“Quite understandably, a great deal is being said about ‘opening up the economy’. People are conscious of the damage being done to business, and to their own income and savings. We should be getting back to work gradually but also speedily, with safety but also with effectiveness. The need, however, is not just economic: we are not merely homo economicus, we are also homo socius. It is society as a whole which needs to be opened up. We do not live by work or wealth alone... Many are worried that they cannot visit relatives or friends who need care or company. Those living on their own have experienced sometimes frightening loneliness. I called on a lady (at a safe distance) who had not seen anyone since March. This is clearly not sustainable and will have a significant impact on the mental health of those thus isolated. The costs of mental illness, breakdowns and suicides will be a high price to pay if isolation continues for any length of time.”

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4. Andrew Feinberg in The Independent

on the need to keep one eye on the president

While everyone's distracted by coronavirus, Trump's quietly taking personal control of an agency he shouldn't be going anywhere near

“On the same day Trump signed an official document thanking civil servants nationwide, his own appointees at the federal government’s human resources policy agency were making moves to consolidate their power and undermine the career officials who he has so often derides as the ‘deep state’ and part of the ‘opposition.’ That agency - the Office of Personnel Management - is, among other things, responsible for making sure federal agencies follow civil service laws, some of which date back to 1883. Most anti-corruption experts will wax eloquent about how a merit-based, nonpartisan civil service is necessary to ensure that government functions smoothly and unencumbered by corruption. But for the loyalty-obsessed Trump administration, having to hire the (actual) best people and protect them from being fired for political reasons has been a bridge too far since Day One.”

5. Charlie Warzel in The New York Times

on the dark side of American freedom

Open States, Lots of Guns. America Is Paying a Heavy Price for Freedom

“The coronavirus pandemic and gun violence are by no means perfectly analogous calamities. The federal government, which has the power to pass stricter gun laws, has more limited powers to control states’ public health responses to Covid-19. And while other countries have curtailed gun violence, most are struggling to contain the virus. But unlike many Western and Asian countries that are moving slowly to reopen and telling their citizens hard truths about the months ahead, the United States seems fixated on returning to normal, despite warnings from public health experts that it is too soon. As with gun violence, the data medical professionals and governments are relying on during the pandemic is piecemeal. And, as with gun violence, we throw up our hands and deem it intractable.”

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