3rd June UK Political Update – Brexit and Hong Kong join the Covid-19 news agenda
Politicians are back in Westminster in person now, no longer allowed to work from home unless they are shielding, and they are having to queue to vote in a socially distanced manner.
Today will see the return of debate in the Parliamentary Chamber (albeit under SD rules) and another head to head debate at the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions between Boris and Sir Keir Starmer, the new Labour leader.
Sir Keir is proving himself a formidable opponent for Boris, and has moved impressively fast to get a firm grip on his party’s structure and surround himself with talented Labour ministers-in-waiting.
In Parliament today Priti Patel, the home secretary, will defend the 14 day compulsory quarantine scheme for people arriving in the UK, (which starts on Mon 8th June), saying that the government “owes it” to the thousands of people who have lost their lives to the virus (39,369 so far) to do nothing that could risk a second peak. The measure will be reviewed every three weeks.
She will also say that air bridges to countries with low virus infection rates are possible in the near future. This would mean that people arriving from certain places will not have to self-isolate.
However, that will only apply to countries with low Covid-19 infection rates, she is expected to tell MPs.
Meanwhile, Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye has told BBC Breakfast that travellers will have to fill out details of where they will be staying to quarantine, when they book their flight.
He said there will then be “spot checks” within the immigration area, where the Border Force officers will check if people have filled out their form.
“All of the form-filling will take place before you get on a plane, and will be done online. The government will be able to check information before people get onto a plane,” he said.
When deciding whether to keep the quarantine in place each three weeks, the government will consider several factors. They include:
- the rate of infection internationally
- prevention measures in other countries
- the extent to which other countries with more relaxed border arrangements have seen imported cases
- the effectiveness of testing methods at minimising the risk of new cases of the virus entering the country.
3rd June UK Economic Update – Brexit negotiations are approaching a nail-biting climax
The economic implications of a ‘no deal’ Brexit in December 2020, piled on top of the economic devastation of the corona virus, are top of the economic agenda this week, since June is the critical month for an extension.
With UK/EU Brexit negotiations at an impasse, hopes for a breakthrough have been pinned on a meeting later this month between Boris Johnson, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council President Charles Michel.
Bloomberg reports that the European Union will try to convince Boris Johnson to forge a compromise later this month in an attempt to stop the U.K. from breaking away from the bloc without a trade deal.
Johnson will be told where the EU could potentially make concessions — as long as the U.K. takes a similarly conciliatory approach, top level sources said. That could allow the two sides to reach an accord in the second half of 2020.
But there is no guarantee that the prime minister will agree. On Tuesday, Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, dismissed suggestions of a compromise as “wishful thinking by the EU”.
The U.K. government has threatened to walk away from the negotiations in June if they haven’t made adequate progress.
If the two sides fail to reach an agreement by year-end, Britain will default to trading with the bloc on terms set by the World Trade Organization, leaving businesses and consumers grappling with the return of tariffs and quotas.
In a sign of the economic risks of a no-deal, the CEO of Nissan has already said that their UK Sunderland factory, employing 7,000 workers, will be unviable if that happens, and closure will be inevitable.
Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey recently told bank chief executive officers to step up their preparations for leaving the EU without a trade deal, Sky News reported, citing unidentified people briefed on the call.
The EU is demanding that, in return for any deal, the U.K. agrees to apply some of the bloc’s rules after Brexit to maintain a level competitive playing field. It also wants the European Court of Justice to continue to have jurisdiction in the U.K. and for European fishing vessels to maintain their access to British waters.
So far, British officials have ruled out accepting those demands. Johnson has made it clear that he believes Britain’s vote to leave the bloc means that the country should be fully independent, one U.K. official said.
Behind the rhetoric, though, diplomats say the two sides have started to map out where a deal could be done as they work out which positions are genuine red lines and which leave room for maneuver.
European diplomats say the bloc could water down its demands on fishing and, to a more limited extent, on the level playing field.
In return, they expect the U.K. to make a similar leap — but so far, one hasn’t been forthcoming.
Much of this week’s discussions will be focused on fisheries. The EU’s public position is to demand the status quo, where European fishing boats have access to British waters under a quota system based on historic catch areas. The U.K. wants to replace that with annual negotiations that reflect more accurately where fish are found today.
At the end of the last round of talks, the U.K.’s chief negotiator, David Frost, called the European approach “manifestly unbalanced.” His EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, acknowledged that both sides had taken “maximalist” starting positions that they could move away from.
Even if the two sides inch closer toward agreement on fishing, though, they will still have to reconcile their divisions on the role of the EU courts. One U.K. official warned that Britain will never agree to align with EU laws or accept the continued jurisdiction of the European courts – and accused the EU of ignoring the political realities of Brexit.
3rd June UK Social Update – Portugal leads the way in welcoming the Brits this summer
Given the blanket quarantine restrictions about to be imposed in the UK from 8th June, Portugal has moved impressively fast to reassure British visitors who are keen to get to the Portuguese sunshine.
The BBC reports today that Portugal’s foreign minister has said anyone in the UK thinking of going to Portugal this summer will be “most welcome” amid coronavirus.
Augusto Santos Silva said he hoped an air bridge between the UK and Portugal could be secured and that talks were ongoing.
Mr Santos Silva told the BBC that an agreement between the UK and Portugal could be in place by the end of June, meaning that holidaymakers returning to the UK from Portugal would escape the quarantine rules.
He said any travel quarantine “was an enemy of tourism”, but that he respected the UK government’s decision to enforce one on almost all arrivals to the UK from next Monday.
But he insisted that Portugal would not impose any type of quarantine for people arriving in his country. Instead, he said Portugal would rely on temperature checks at airports and that Portugal was, in coordination with other EU countries, considering carrying out “random testing” on passengers.
Mr Santos Silva said “rules” in Portugal, like the Clean and Safe campaign for hotels and restaurants, would also ensure that people would be able to holiday safely. He said tourists would be warned how full beaches are, so that they could avoid crowded spots, and suggested that nightlife in Portuguese resorts this summer would be very limited and people would not be allowed to congregate in groups at night.