We will know in the next few weeks if Britain is to leave the European Union without a trade deal. The ‘high-level’ meeting in June has been earmarked by the UK and the EU as the moment when they decide whether to take the negotiations to the next stage or not. If there is to be a deal, then the contours of it will need to start to become clearer at this meeting. If they don’t, then both sides will need to decide whether their time would be better spent preparing for trading on WTO terms than in unconstructive negotiations.
This coronavirus has been cruel to the European Union. The supposed fraternity of member states was the first casualty of the virus, as countries hoarded their medical equipment and banned exports to each other. When Italy’s borrowing costs soared Christine Lagarde, now president of the European Central Bank, said this was not her problem. After much soul-searching — and an apology to Italy from Ursula von der Leyen, the new Commission president — Brussels is trying to repair the damage.
It’s heartening to hear that while it’s curtains for the economy, our domestic lives are on the up. In Wuhan there was a spike in divorce rates, and in Japan, wives have been sending their husbands away to hostels. But here in Britain, there’s love in lockdown. Sales of engagement rings have risen significantly since we were all told to stay at home and couples have found creative ways to pop the question in their living rooms and local parks.
Just when it seemed that Donald Trump had finally committed political suicide — his notion of injecting disinfectant to cure coronavirus marking only one of his recent reckless absurdities — he says something off the cuff that makes one lament the sight of so much raw political talent going to waste in the cause of solipsistic mania.
A leftist anti-Trumper I may be, but I’ve been strangely impressed by the President’s capacity for perfectly credible, progressive--sounding political analysis, especially on the trade issues that sometimes bring together on common ground right-wing nationalists and left-wing defenders of labour rights.
Schools might never have closed in the first place had the coronavirus not started in China. Imagine it had started in Sweden. Whoever responded first was going to set the tone for the nations that followed. When we are uncertain about what to do, we look to the behaviour of others to guide us.
Imagine walking down a street with a new restaurant on either side (you remember restaurants, right?), and that you do not know anything about either of them.
My great-grandfather did not fight in the war. He wasn’t a conscientious objector — he was a scientist helping to develop radar. It’s tempting to imagine family history repeating itself. I’m not alongside my colleagues on the NHS front line; instead I’ve been part of a large team at the Crick Institute, helping to develop tests for Sars-CoV-2, the causative agent of Covid-19. For the first phase of our struggle against this virus, we’ve had minimal testing capacity — no radar — and we’ve suffered the consequences.
Last week’s Brexit negotiations, conducted by video conference, failed to come to an agreement on fisheries. Michel Barnier, the EU negotiator (and former French fisheries minister), insisted that continued European access to British territorial waters was a prerequisite of any deal, and David Frost, his British counterpart, replied that this was ‘incompatible with our status as an independent coastal state’. If there is going to be no deal as a result of fishing, as seems increasingly probable, we are going to have a lot more fish to eat, but we’re also going to have to eat a lot more fish.
Dar es Salaam
The World Health Organisation has drawn up a shortlist of countries it’s most concerned about during the pandemic. Tanzania is at the top. The government’s lack of transparency during the crisis is a big part of the problem. In recent years the country has imposed increasingly repressive laws to muffle the media — newspapers fined and journalists arrested. Or worse. For the purposes of this piece I am ‘Tom James’; I’m either more circumspect or less courageous than my fellow journos here.
‘You’d like me to write about bats? I’ve not held one in earnest for years,’ I said, although I did break what I reckoned was about 24 years of cricket abstinence by opening the innings for the Lord’s Taverners in Cape Town shortly before lockdown. For the record, I was just getting the hang of it again when I dragged one back on to my stumps for 5, confirming that it is indeed a cruel game and that giving up had been the right thing.