It was a week ago today that Boris Johnson addressed the nation and told us to ‘Stay Alert, Control The Virus and Save Lives’.
The immediate reaction to the Prime Minister’s address was mixed. Some thought it couldn’t be clearer, but most just seemed confused – how could we be staying alert to an invisible virus? As the week has developed, we’ve learnt more about what staying alert actually means, and we’ve learnt more on other stories, not all completely related to the Coronavirus pandemic – here’s a roundup of three of the week’s biggest topics.
Questions of the union of the United Kingdom have been raised before, but this week they were raised for different reasons as the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland seemingly went even further down their own routes in responding to the virus pandemic. In recent days, leaders have claimed that there is broadly a four-nation response to the virus, but this seems somewhat hard to believe given recent events.
The governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all rejected Boris Johnson’s new ‘Stay Alert’ message, and have refused to use it in their nations’ at this stage, instead continuing with the ‘Stay At Home, Protect The NHS and Save Lives’ message. On Friday, the Welsh Government unveiled its ‘traffic light system’ for easing lockdown measures, refusing to give dates for the implementation of its different stages. Northern Ireland has also revealed its exit strategy, which also declines to give dates for moving forward.
This week, we also learnt that there are notable communication problems between the devolved governments and Downing Street. Responding to our question on Friday, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said that communications between the nation and Downing Street were often infrequent and had a tendency to break-down, with communications between each devolved nation usually being more successful. Speaking on Friday, the FM said;
“The UK needs to update the way it operates to take account of 20 years of devolution, and I have long argued not for the sort of ad-hoc arrangements we have now where we get called together with very short notice, often to discuss things of major importance. We ought to have an entrenched system that we all can see and we all understand that makes the United Kingdom work effectively together because I want the United Kingdom to be a success, that is my aim and I think a devolved United Kingdom will succeed better if we make our constitution catch up with the realities on the ground – we have reliable, regular, easy to see, easy to understand ways of talking to one another and in that way, we can all make our contribution, we can all benefit from a United Kingdom that remains united and remains successful”.
Read more analysis on the union here.
Brexit is back in the headlines and it doesn’t seem to be going too well. Some reading this may be thinking, how is Brexit back, we’ve already left?? Well, while we’ve left the European Union, we’re still technically following many EU rules and we are part of some of their institutions whilst we are in a transition period. During the transition period, we can negotiate a future relationship with the EU on different issues such as trade.
While it hasn’t been in the headlines much, Brexit related trade talks have still been going on in the background over the last weeks and months. This week, the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost spoke out following the latest talks between the UK and EU, blasting the position of the EU as “unprecedented in Free Trade Agreements and not envisaged in the political declaration”. On the outstanding issues, there has been “very little progress towards an agreement”.
If no agreement can be reached, the UK faces a no-deal scenario on December 31, 2020. Nobody knows exactly what that may look like, though many are concerned about the impact it could have on Britons and the economy. The UK and EU could agree to extend the transition period and have been urged by many to do so given that much focus has been diverted towards dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. However, speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reaffirmed Britain’s commitment not to extend the arrangement. If you’re missing seemingly endless news headlines about “no deal”, don’t fear – they could be back pretty soon.
Read more on this story here.
Moving Too Fast?
There have been plenty of disagreements this week about the speed at which England is seeking to move out of lockdown measures. Some believe the government is moving to ease lockdown at a rate which is irresponsibly fast, while some business owners and Conservative members are reported to be urging the government to move even faster. The disagreements come after Boris Johnson set out a first sketch for easing lockdown measures on Sunday, which could see non-essential retail reopening from June, and some of the hospitality industry opening from 6 July.
One particular row that has erupted this week is over schools and when they should return. Under the government’s plan, schools could open for key year groups from 1 June. Teachers have complained though about a lack of guidance, and both teachers unions and the British Medical Association have said schools shouldn’t be reopening while the reinfection rate remains high. Specific questions have been raised such as how students in Year R and Year 1 can be taught to social distance, but many questions remain unanswered.
According to reports, Boris Johnson wants England to be back to near-normality by mid-July. ‘Staying alert’ appears to mean using ‘British common sense’ as some of us start to go back to work, and the government has released some documents this week seeking to clarify what we should and shouldn’t be doing right now. Questions remain unanswered as to what we may be able to do in the summer months, particularly in regards to summer holidays. Some airlines such as Ryanair have pledged to resume more flights, while others have said they don’t expect to be resuming many services due to plans by the UK government to introduce quarantine measures for arrivals to the UK.
Whether the UK is moving too fast is a significant topic of debate, but a YouGov / Sky poll revealed this week that more people now, for the first time, think the government is doing badly rather than well at handling the Coronavirus.
Read our latest coverage on the Coronavirus here.
Nobody quite knows what will happen as the UK enters another week in its response to the Coronavirus pandemic, but it looks set to be another busy week and one full of debates about the way to move forward. For the latest top stories throughout the week, follow us on Twitter @speakerpolitics.