In Depth

Instant Opinion: Boris Johnson is no longer prime minister of the whole UK

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Monday 11 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. Sean O’Grady in The Independent

on the collapse on the UK’s unified coronavirus response

Boris Johnson is no longer a prime minister of the whole United Kingdom – but you won’t see him admit it

“The UK is over, at least so far as the fight to defeat the coronavirus is concerned, and our national unity is the latest casualty of this ‘devilish illness’, as the first minister of the Province of England calls it. You’d never think that, though, watching his UK-wide broadcast – or indeed much of the media reporting is concerned. According to Johnson there is a new plan for ‘the whole country’ and although he has (loaded word) ‘consulted’ the four nations of the UK, ‘I believe that as prime minister of the United Kingdom – Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, there is a strong resolve to defeat this together’. Well, Boris, you can ‘believe’ all you like, but devolved administrations have much more than a right to be ‘consulted’ (or ignored) by you; they have a complete veto so far as their own territories are concerned. If they don’t wish to change the rules or the messaging, or both, then they won’t. And, indeed, they have not.”

2. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, in The Daily Telegraph

on her plan to deviate from Boris Johnson’s Covid-19 plan

I will not sign up to Boris Johnson’s vague and imprecise ‘Stay Alert’ slogan

“We are making real progress in tackling the pandemic – but that progress is fragile and could all too easily be undone. That is why I am reiterating, in the strongest possible way, that the message to people here in Scotland remains Stay at Home - unless you have to go out for food, medicine, exercise or to do essential work that can’t be done at home. The public have responded magnificently to that appeal over recent weeks but it is too soon to change that message. The new slogan introduced by the Prime Minister for the people of England, to ‘Stay Alert’, is, I am afraid to say, vague and imprecise, and dilutes the crystal clear call for people to remain at home. Clarity of message is vital, and for that reason I have asked the UK government not to deploy their Stay Alert ad campaign in Scotland.”

3. John Harris in The Guardian

on the power of Britain’s nationalist mythology

We can’t hide behind the bunting – let’s face up to what’s happened to Britain

“In England in particular, there is a strand of the national culture expressed by the mixture of hectoring optimism and insularity of the rightwing press, and reducible to the idea that the supposed British way of doing anything is necessarily the best. Even now, 21st-century politics is still less about hardened matters of success and failure than these expressions of culture and history, and the sides they force people to take. Britain was led into the disaster of Brexit by people successfully sowing the ludicrous idea that subjecting ourselves to self-harm would somehow awaken the Blitz spirit and revive past glories. Amid Friday’s juxtaposition of the 75th anniversary of VE day and a deepening sense of national crisis, as well as solemn remembrance, there was inevitably some of the same stuff. These things play into deep elements of the English psyche, shot through with the lingering traces of deference and always ready to be manipulated by Tory politicians.”

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4. Clare Foges in The Times

on Britain’s need for a Brexit extension

This is no time to be stubborn about Brexit

“Something... has diminished over the course of the past couple of months: our faith that British institutions, primarily the government, have the skills to handle a no-deal Brexit. We have heard endless swagger about how Britain would be fine on WTO terms, with the implicit suggestion that Whitehall has the capacity and dynamism to shape this new ‘global Britain’. The no-deal dream is built on the idea of British exceptionalism. But the failings of recent months, whether on PPE, testing, quarantining or government messaging, have dented that hubris. The world has been shocked by the government’s handling of this crisis. The international press scorns its ‘complacent’, ‘incompetent’, ‘negligent’ approach. Do we really have the commanding authority necessary to draw up a load of trade deals in short order? We must plead with our government to climb down and extend the talks. The withdrawal agreement allows for an extension of one or two years; we should go for two. As only a single extension is allowed, let us go for the maximum.”

5. Charles M. Blow in The New York Times

on the creeping danger of widespread hunger

The Hunger Pains of a Pandemic

“I now think a lot about children like the one I was and families like the one I had in this era of pandemic, when unfathomable job losses are hitting low-wage workers hardest, when schools where poor children ate free lunches are closed, where there are now regular news stories of food banks being inundated with desperate families in need of help. As a Brookings report last week detailed: ‘By the end of April, more than one in five households in the United States, and two in five households with mothers with children 12 and under, were food insecure. In almost one in five households of mothers with children age 12 and under, the children were experiencing food insecurity.’... People will be hungry. They already are. And, hunger is not a thing that you simply become inured to. It makes people desperate, and desperation, on the scale that it will likely occur because of this pandemic, is dangerous. The effect of this pandemic on the vulnerable isn’t limited to America. This is likely to be a world crisis of hunger and instability.”

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