Now the Prime Minister needs to go back on his word, as he is treated for Covid-19, and ‘get Brexit undone’.
The logic is this. Coronavirus has changed everything. It will now define Johnson’s premiership. It’s claimed over 750 lives and the country is in lockdown. Even Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s pronouncements on Brexit in the Budget two weeks ago look empty.
Right now, the virus – and its containment – is the only priority. So, too, is sourcing ventilators after the Government opted out of a EU-wide procurement deal. Everything else, including Brexit, is of secondary importance.
The economic fallout will drag on for years – the UK was only recovering from the 2008 banking crash when Covid-19 started to take hold. Now, more than ever, international co-operation is crucial if lives are to be saved. There’s not time for distractions.
Yet, while Mr Johnson staked his reputation on concluding a trade deal with the EU before the end of 2020, or Britain would leave the European Union on WTO terms, this tight timetable is now even more unrealistic.
Every Minister – and official – in 10 Downing Street, and the rest of Whitehall, is working overtime to limit the impact of Covid-19. The B-word – so omnipresent in the political lexicon – is not even being uttered.
There’s also a realisation that coronavirus is here to stay. Even if transmission of the virulent virus is checked by, say, the end of June, the second half of the year will be dominated by the social, economic and health fallout.
And rather than talks beginning next week before a final decision is taken in June on whether they can be concluded, the PM should delay the Brexit timetable by 12 months. As one high-profile Brexit supporter conceded to me: “We’re at war and coronavirus is the enemy now.”
Far from being a betrayal of Brexiteers, and all those who voted to leave the EU five years ago in June, it will be an act of responsible statesmanship that most people here will recognise and respect. More crucially, it will also ensure that there’s still time to negotiate a good deal once – to paraphrase the PM – he’s ‘got coronavirus done’. And that day can’t come soon enough.
FOR more than two years, this newspaper has made the case for social care reform. For two years, we’ve got nowhere – just a wall of obfuscation and doublespeak from Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and others. We’ve felt like a lone voice.
Perhaps it will change after this statement to Parliament: “Carers, adults in social care, parents of children with learning disabilities and others often feel that they have a fight on their hands at the best of times, and we are heading for what I hope will not be the worst of times.”
Who said it? Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt in a debate on the NHS’s readiness for coronavirus. I commend her honesty. Now will Ministers act?
IT is a sign of these time that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps effectively renationalised every train operator with no political contention whatsoever.
Belated recognition from the party that privatised the railways in the 1990s that the trains are a public service, these emergency arrangements are in place for six months.
But, given this, I wonder if Shapps should consider keeping the railways under public control for even longer so that he can implement promised reforms – the Keith Williams review is pending – when the pandemic has finally passed. And after every train carriage has been deep-cleaned.
TALK about blatant political opportunism. When Yorkshire was flooded – it seems a lifetime ago – Lib Dem MP Layla Moran wanted a piece in this newspaper to offer her views. We declined as it was a clear pitch for the party leadership on the back of the human misery being suffered by others.
She wasn’t deterred. Now every press release on coronavirus has ‘Vote Layla’ plastered all over the top. And, even after the party announced yesterday that the leadership contest was on hold, Moran was persisting with this gratuitous and self-serving messaging.
IF shoppers defy Ministers over panic buyers, perhaps they should deploy Mick Easterby, the irascible Yorkshire racehorse trainer (and farmer).
Easterby, who won the 1000 Guineas in 1977 with Mrs McArdy, is a Claude Greengrass-type character who says: “There’s acres and acres of fields here that are growing crops that will be harvested...
“Hundreds of tonnes of beans, peas, wheat and so on. That’s just one farm, and there’s thousands of others. The supermarkets have warehouses stacked full of food. It isn’t going to run out.” I’m happy to reiterate the message.
BY now, officials will be finalising the Queen’s Birthday Honours and informing recipients. They should think again. Unless the entire list is dedicated to our Covid-19 heroes in the NHS and community – and it is, frankly, wrong to reward one doctor over another at this time – it, too, should be put on hold to avoid causing offence. Do you agree?
FINALLY, can the ‘two metre’ social distancing rule be applied to those lycra-clad maniacs who I saw cycling three and four abreast through Otley hours after Boris Johnson’s emergency address? Or do they think they are immune from coronavirus – as well as road safety laws?