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Mon May 18, 2020, 06:56 AM

Brexit: deaths, more deaths ... and no-deal calculations



In a nightmare-scenario ‘Brexit’ denouement, the UK government provokes no-deal chaos from which it hopes to profit after its Covid-19 shambles.

https://www.socialeurope.eu/brexit-deaths-more-deaths-and-no-deal-calculations

For Boris Johnson the year that was supposed to be focused on ‘Brexit’ has turned into a year that’s focused on death. To be exact, 50,000 excess deaths and rising—the result of his government’s hubris and incompetence in the face of the Covid-19 epidemic. The UK’s response to the pandemic has been pilloried in the global media: the late lockdown, the shortages of personal protective equipment and testing kits, the unannounced strategy of protecting the hospital system by moving the epidemic into the eldercare-home system and, at time of writing, a confused and fragmentary attempt to ease the restrictions on work and movement.

Renewed prospect

But there is hope in sight for the prime minister, in the form of a clash with the European Union and the renewed prospect of a no-deal Brexit. At the official level, the UK still plans not only to leave the single market on December 31st but to trigger a no-deal scenario as early as June 30th—by which time any extension of the transition would have to be decided—if no outline agreement is reached at the EU-UK summit next month. Last week the government moved civil servants who had been dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak back into their jobs at the ‘Exit Operations’ unit and increased the tempo of preparations for a no-deal outcome.

Meawhile, at community level, the social constituencies which voted for Brexit have—until now—given Johnson the benefit of the doubt over his handling of the pandemic. While the left and sections of the media clamoured for a hard and early lockdown, the anecdotal reaction in Brexit-supporting communities was ‘Stop politicising things—support the government’. Now, as the trade unions resist Johnson’s attempt to reopen schools and public transport, the familiar lines of cultural warfare are re-emerging. The unions are ‘selfish’ and the opponents of the relaxation ‘wreckers’ who just want the economy to collapse—that’s been the subtext, or text, of right-wing tabloid-press coverage over the past week.

Discontented majority

But it’s not working. Support for Johnson’s handling of the epidemic peaked at 72 per cent at the end of March but has now fallen to 42 per cent. In a May 17th Yougov poll, for the first time, those discontented with the government’s performance overtook those contented, with the latter on 47 per cent. Crucially, this includes one in five of those who voted for Johnson—though the same demographics which split the UK over Brexit are still in evidence: all groups under 50 are disparaging of Johnson’s record, all groups over 50 supportive. This is the background to the reactivation of the no-deal scenario in the Brexit talks. The UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, accused Michel Barnier, representing the EU, of clinging to an ‘ideological’ position—that the UK must honour its commitments to a level playing-field on social and environmental issues, as an ex-member seeking to sustain favourable trade access. As in the autumn 2019 Brexit crisis, this move is calculated to raise the spectre of no deal to bounce the EU into a more favourable agreement, while reigniting the political polarisation which put Johnson in power.

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