In Depth

Instant Opinion: Boris Johnson’s ‘Brexit bluster’ will cost Britain

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Tuesday 8 September

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

1. Rachel Sylvester in The Times

on the PM’s no-deal brinkmanship

Johnson’s Brexit bluster will cost us dear

“No 10 has also convinced itself, rightly or wrongly, that the coronavirus crisis will disguise the economic impact of leaving [the EU] without a free trade agreement. Mr Johnson is already under attack from his party’s right-wingers over proposed tax rises and is facing accusations of incompetence after a string of U-turns. In addition, the government has been criticised over its handling of the pandemic, which left Britain with one of the highest death rates in the world... Perhaps the prime minister will swoop in with a last-minute concession, as he did last year, but in terms of the country’s reputation abroad it may be too late. Whether there is a Brexit deal or not, Britain will need all the friends it can get around the world, yet the government seems to be set on alienating potential allies. One senior Conservative described a recent conversation with the foreign minister of another (non-EU) country. ‘They said to me, ’We used to be seen as disorganised but now you are the ones who are all over the place and chaotic.‘ Britain was seen as stable and reliable and suddenly we have become shifty. The whole personality of Boris Johnson is being superimposed on to the country.’”

2. Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, in The Guardian

on avoiding a second wave

Coronavirus cases are rising again in the UK. What will happen next?

“It’s worth remembering that case numbers now aren’t comparable to those in March. Before, tests were only done on people who had been admitted to hospital. Now, symptomatic people are being tested outside of hospitals and in the community, along with their contacts. This means that we’re picking up infections and positive cases that we weren’t previously testing for. Nonetheless, after enduring the considerable pain of a prolonged lockdown, nobody wants to see the UK going backwards on the progress it has made. As numbers rise, ministers face difficult decisions about how to get on top of this situation and ensure schools remain open. If the government doesn’t do anything and lets the virus spread, hospitalisations will increase, deaths will follow and ministers will be blamed for not doing enough to suppress the virus... But if the government moves early to limit the spread of the virus and lower the number of cases, ministers will then be blamed for overreacting and unnecessarily hurting the economy. This is a classic paradox in public health.”

3. Alexandra Phillips in The Daily Telegraph

on Downing Street control of the optics

We should be sceptical about the PM’s threats to rip up the Withdrawal Agreement

“If reports are to be believed and we are not simply being treated to a choreographed campaign playing to respective galleries as mandarins cross t’s and dot i’s behind the scenes on an eleventh hour settlement, the UK looks set to do something quite unprecedented in transnational agreements and ride roughshod over an international treaty. Something tells me the volume is set to be turned up to maximum before a final resolution takes place. Does the UK really have the effrontery to go rogue. To pretend the Withdrawal Agreement doesn’t exist is a fool’s game. One wonders whether the latest ploy in tacking on new legislation designed to clear up ‘ambiguity’ is yet more pantomime. The Prime Minister’s spokesman insisted on the same day to the continental press that the Government remains fully committed to the treaty. I am immediately catapulted back to the mayhem and absurdity of Boris being forced to write two letters to the powers that be in Brussels asking for an extension to the UK’s transition period, able to control the optics by blaming the inconvenience of UK law for forcing his hand. This time, however, blaming being beholden to UK law is not an option, for it was he that instigated its coming into effect.”

4. Chloe Maughan in The Independent

on the need for a future roadmap

The government stripped young people of hope – then blamed them for the second wave

“It’s not simply that the rules are confusing that’s creating chaos, it’s that they don’t make sense. That should concern all of us, because not being able to make sense of the rules is what has led to people not complying with them. So, who is really to blame for a second wave? It’s not young people. It’s the government’s mixed messages. But beyond that, seeking to scapegoat young people ignores how much lockdown has affected them. School-aged children saw their education completely disrupted. Thousands of university students were forced to say goodbye to their independence and move back with family as campuses across the country closed, their futures entirely uncertain. Younger workers are among those that have been most affected by unemployment as a result of the pandemic. And many young people live in insecure and poor quality housing, from which there has been little escape through lockdown.”

5. Ivan Krastev in The New York Times

on authoritarians losing ground during crisis

The Pandemic Was Supposed to Be Great for Strongmen. What Happened?

“Some fear that more than any other crisis, a public health emergency like this one will impel people to accept restrictions on their liberties in the hope of improving personal security. The pandemic has increased tolerance of invasive surveillance and bans on freedom of assembly. In several Western countries — including the United States and Germany — there were public protests against mask mandates and lockdowns. At the same time, the pandemic has eroded the power of authoritarians and the authoritarian-inclined. The instinctive reaction of leaders like Mr. Lukashenko in Belarus, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Donald Trump in the United States was not to take advantage of the state of emergency to expand their authority — it was to play down the seriousness of the pandemic. Why are authoritarian leaders who thrive on crises and who are fluent in the politics of fear reluctant to embrace the opportunity? Why do they seem to hate a crisis that they should love? The answer is straightforward: Authoritarians only enjoy those crises they have manufactured themselves.”


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