Back to work Boris
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has this week returned to Downing Street to resume full-time duties after spending three weeks recovering from coronavirus. Mr Johnson had spent a week in St Thomas’s hospital in London, including three nights in intensive care, after being admitted on Sunday 5th April.
It’s been an eventful month for Mr Johnson, who chaired his first Cabinet meeting since being discharged from hospital a mere 36 hours after his fiancée Carrie Symonds gave birth to a son. Returning to centre stage at the daily coronavirus press conference on Thursday evening, Mr Johnson assured the nation that it was not just “past the peak of this disease” but is now in fact, in true Johnson style, ploughing through “some huge Alpine tunnel” and able to “see the sunlight and pasture ahead.”
His swift return to duty is welcome but difficult decisions lie ahead. At the top of Mr Johnson’s lengthy to-do list is setting out how and when the UK will begin easing the lockdown measures that have slowed the spread of the virus whilst bringing daily life to a standstill. Meeting the government’s 100,000-a-day testing target, solving the ongoing PPE shortages, rolling out a contact tracing programme akin to that seen in South Korea and, of course, Brexit (remember that?) are all next.
Brexit deal “entirely possible” by December, says Gove
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove has this week insisted a Brexit trade deal is “entirely possible” by December despite mounting coronavirus pressure. Mr Gove, who leads preparations for a no-deal end to the Brexit transition period, gave evidence to the House of Commons Brexit committee, assuring members that the current pandemic will “concentrate the minds of EU negotiators.”
Speaking just hours after the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson called for “political movement on the EU side,” Mr Gove told the committee that both the UK and EU need to “take stock” of negotiations in mid-June to assess whether a deal by the December 31 deadline – already impossibly tight – is indeed likely. He fell short of clarifying whether the UK would abandon negotiations if both sides had not made sufficient progress towards a deal by the end of June.
Across the Channel, a frustrated Monsieur Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has blasted the UK for not “committing seriously on a number of fundamental points.” He has warned the UK that it cannot slow trade talks on key areas whilst refusing to agree to extend the transition period – in other words, political suicide for the Conservatives, who rode into their “stonking” majority last December on the back of the “Get Brexit Done” mantra.
More healthcare workers to benefit from visa extension
Another 3,000 health and care workers in the UK are set to benefit from a free, one-year visa extension to help fight coronavirus, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced on Wednesday. Frontline workers, including pharmacists, social workers, radiographers and midwives, whose visas are due to expire before October 1 this year will receive an automatic extension, along with their families.
Giving evidence to the Home Affairs committee, Ms Patel also said that family members or dependents of healthcare workers who die whilst battling the virus on the frontline will also be granted indefinite leave to remain, although she sees “no reason why” the June 2021 deadline for EU nationals to apply for the post-Brexit settled status scheme should be extended.
In a fiery exchange, Ms Patel and committee chair Yvette Cooper clashed over the Labour MP’s claim that the Home Office has been dodging scrutiny on the government’s response to coronavirus. The Home Secretary is meanwhile quietly seeking to renegotiate an international agreement to make it easier for the UK to return migrants trying to cross the Channel to France.
EU nationals dealt unfair hand
EU nationals who have been rejected for government support during the coronavirus pandemic say that the UK is not treating them fairly. An increasing number of EU citizens living in Britain have applied for British benefits for the first time, after many have found themselves out of work or with a dramatically reduced income because of public health and social distancing measures.
The rights of any EU citizen living in Britain are guaranteed in the (now infamous) Withdrawal Agreement, which promises to treat them equally to Brits. But EU nationals who have lived in Britain less than five years – and have been granted pre-settled status under the government’s EU Settlement Scheme – are realising that they are not automatically entitled to Universal Credit, with many being rejected despite apparently meeting the criteria.
Nearly 1.3 million Europeans have been granted pre-settled status by the UK government, but they are now at risk of not qualifying for support during the pandemic because of bureaucratic hurdles. Since job centres have closed during the lockdown, many EU nationals are struggling to navigate the landscape and remain in worryingly precarious situations.
The Eurozone is on track for a worse recession than that in 2009 after contracting a record 3.8 percent in an initial estimate for the first three months of the year, compared with the previous quarter. A preliminary flash estimate by the EU statistics office Eurostat shows economies grinding to a halt after governments shut down activity to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
With the Eurozone barely growing even before the coronavirus struck much of the continent earlier this year, the data has piled yet more pressure on the bloc’s policymakers to come up with a recovery plan that will kickstart the economy once the effects of the virus subside.
As evidence of the economic toll caused by the coronavirus pandemic has started to emerge, it appears as France and Italy are already falling into recession, with their economies contracting 5.8% and 4.7% respectively. For France, this is the steepest decline since modern records began in the late 1940s.
The Whitehouse team are experts in the potential impact of Brexit, providing political consultancy and public affairs advice to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom but also across the member states of the European Union. More information about our Brexit experience can be found here, or, if you have any questions, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at firstname.lastname@example.org