“We will not agree to a renegotiation of the Protocol,” European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič said in a statement on Wednesday. “Respecting international legal obligations is of paramount importance,” he added.
This sentiment is shared by Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand — a country with which Britain is currently engaged in trade talks and which has the power to prevent it from joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
The CPTPP is an 11-country free trade pact that includes Mexico, Australia, Canada and Singapore. While it won’t compensate for the economic losses arising from Brexit, it has nonetheless been described by UK Trade Secretary Liz Truss as a “glittering post-Brexit prize.”
In a speech to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs earlier this month, Ardern said that New Zealand had agreed to negotiations that will pave the way for the United Kingdom to join the partnership.
“CPTPP is our highest quality agreement,” she added. “Those aspiring to join will have to be able to meet its high standards.”
Some trade experts interpreted the comment as being directed at Britain. “If it wasn’t intended for the UK it was a completely wasted breath,” Winters said.
Even more pointed warnings have come from other quarters. For any UK government, a trade deal with the United States would be by far the biggest economic victory of a post-Brexit Britain.
That has always looked a long shot, given that neither former President Donald Trump nor current President Joe Biden have had much appetite to sign up to major international treaties, amid a broader shift away from trade liberalization.
But the UK government’s recent actions aren’t helping its cause. In a statement this week, US Democratic Congressman Brendan Boyle rebuked the UK government’s approach to Northern Ireland and highlighted “strong bipartisan” support for the Good Friday Agreement.
“The British government negotiated the Northern Ireland Protocol, agreed to it, and its Parliament voted for it. Yet almost immediately after it went into effect, the British government has tried to evade its responsibilities under the protocol,” he said.
“Their latest statement and proposed changes just continues this trend and serves only to further destabilize Northern Ireland,” he added.
While Biden has been clear that his focus lies mainly on domestic issues, he has also repeatedly warned Britain against making the Good Friday Agreement a “casualty of Brexit.”
“Biden has a specific interest in Northern Ireland and its stability, and does view the UK as the antagonist in that discussion,” said Sam Lowe, a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.
“Ongoing disputes with the EU over Northern Ireland and threats to renege on commitments creates a problem with the US, but I’m not convinced it creates huge problems with any other countries,” he added.
David Henig, UK director at the European Centre for International Political Economy, said that other countries may view the spat over Northern Ireland as a unique case.
“Other countries will certainly be aware that the UK is going back on [its agreements with the European Union], but each negotiation is separate,” Henig said. “It will not be viewed as a particularly good thing but I’m not sure that they won’t segregate it away from their own discussions. Northern Ireland clearly is a special case.”
With grace periods on checks on some goods flowing between Britain and Northern Ireland set to expire at the end of September, including animal products such as chilled meats, more political wrangling between the United Kingdom and European Union lies ahead.
“I can quite easily see this carrying on for quite a while without a change,” said Henig.
“The state of uncertainty might become the status quo,” added Lowe.
Northern Ireland will bear the brunt of this sorry state of affairs. But Johnson’s dream of a “global Britain” will also suffer consequences.
EU officials have already rejected the UK call for a renegotiation, which trade experts say amounts to a brazen attempt to press the European Union to agree to demands that it already rejected during several rounds of talks.
Just seven months after singing its praises, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is attempting to rewrite the Brexit deal he signed with the European Union.
It’s a risky move that will undermine Britain’s credibility as a trustworthy trading partner at the very moment that the UK government is seeking to forge economic alliances far beyond Europe to justify its “global Britain” sales pitch for Brexit, according to experts.
Other countries watching the drama unfold will proceed with caution when it comes to dealing with the United Kingdom, according to L. Alan Winters of the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex in England.
“It certainly does raise questions about the trustworthiness of this government,” he said “I don’t think it will lead to the complete cessation of negotiations between the UK and other countries, but I think it will make it a little bit more difficult,” he added.
To be clear, the UK government’s capricious behavior is a bad look, but it won’t necessarily prove fatal to future trade alliances. It could, however, weaken its negotiating position.
“The UK is a substantial economy,” and is an “attractive trade partner in many ways,” said Simon Usherwood, a professor of politics and international studies at The Open University in England.
Potential partners, such as New Zealand and other Pacific nations, may just insist on more robust ways to settle disputes in case the United Kingdom tried to backtrack on a deal, he told reporters.
“If you wanted a trade deal with the UK, now is probably the best time to get one on your own terms,” Usherwood added, pointing to the highly accommodating deal the UK government granted Australia. “The UK is in a tight situation. It needs to show that leaving the EU was a worthwhile venture.”
On Monday, Boris Johnson will place English citizens at the center of an experiment that will give some indication of how well a highly populated country with surging cases of coronavirus copes when lockdown restrictions are lifted.
In Johnson’s favor, most of the UK’s adult population is now double vaccinated. However, while those vaccinations have cut the numbers of people suffering from severe illness and succumbing to the disease after more than 128,000 deaths, the number of cases is rising. There is also scant evidence that vaccines prevent the worst effects of long Covid in those who become infected.
Despite Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland — the other, less populous, nations of the UK — also being highly vaccinated, it is only England that is taking this leap on Monday.
As of Monday, almost all of the restrictions in England will be lifted. Mandatory mask wearing will be gone, limits on the numbers of people who can mix indoor or outdoor will end, social distancing will be limited to people who have tested positive for the virus and airports, and venues like nightclubs and sports stadiums will be free to open at full capacity.
If someone is pinged by the NHS coronavirus track-and-trace app, they will still need to self-isolate until August 16, at which point double-vaccinated people will be free to carry on as normal.
As cases continue to rise rapidly in England, the number of people told by the app to self-isolate is ballooning. In the week to July 7, 520,000 people received the alert, sparking worries about the program’s impact on the economy.
Even Johnson himself wasn’t spared by the track-and-trace scheme. The Prime Minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were alerted after coming into contact with the Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday.
Downing Street initially announced that instead of self-isolating, the two would take part in a “daily contact-testing pilot,” a scheme that is unavailable to the general public. However, just hours later and following public outrage, officials made a U-turn on the decision and said the two would self-isolate after all.
It’s not the first gamble the PM has taken during the pandemic: He ended a lockdown on December 2 having pledged people a normal Christmas, a promise he would ultimately break when he was forced to reimpose restrictions. During the summer of 2020, the government actively encouraged a completely unvaccinated public to get back into pubs and restaurants, going so far as offering financial incentives to do so. And he opted to go it alone and not join European partners in procuring vaccines, a decision that initially looked set to pay off as the UK raced ahead of its neighbors in jabbing people.
Johnson has defended his latest decision on the grounds that the increase in cases was “predicted.” Where in the past such data would lead a government to “normally be locking down further,” he said earlier this month, the “continuing effectiveness of the vaccine roll-out” means he is confident English people can be given their long-awaited “freedom day” on July 19.
Johnson admitted that this would mean reconciling “ourselves sadly to more deaths from Covid.” But, he added, “if we can’t reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves when will we be able to return to normal?”
What could possibly go wrong?
The main beneficiary of restrictions easing will be without question the hospitality industry, a major sector in the British economy. While most hospitality venues are chomping at the bit to return to work and making money, the dropping of restrictions isn’t without complications.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive at UK Hospitality, explained that many venues will impose restrictions on themselves in order to avoid the practical problems caused by the virus.
She explained that “pings on the (NHS coronavirus) app and then self-isolation” required as a result is the biggest challenge many of these businesses will face, as it will exacerbate “some of the existing labor shortages that are present in the market.”
Some venues will only open for certain days of the week or hours in the day, which will “have an impact on their ability to recover,” Nicholls added. Frustrating, given that now is the “first time in 17 to 18 months they’ll be able to break even.”
Further to that, these sorts of businesses will need to assure customers that their venues are safe by keeping measures like screens between tables, maintaining social distancing and possibly sticking to table service, which affects profits.
Inevitably, the return to something resembling normal in hospitality will lead to a greater surge in cases, which naturally carries its own risks.
“Unfortunately, the hospitality industry relies on people interacting and meeting and that is going to drive up infection rates,” says Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading.
The consequences of a surge in the virus are where things could get sticky. Modeling by Imperial College London predicts that lifting all restrictions could lead to “a significant third wave of hospitalizations and deaths.” While the existing covid vaccines are very effective, they are not 100%. Some people may get ill despite being fully vaccinated.
Clarke explains that “filling hospitals with people who are ill enough to be in hospital but not ill enough to end up in intensive care” will put a huge strain on the NHS. And, he grimly adds, “that looks like what’s going to happen.” Any additional strain on the NHS will be unwelcome news to the millions of people who are awaiting treatment for non-Covid illness. The waiting list is currently at a record high.
Potentially more damaging, Clarke says is that “with every single infection of every single person, the likelihood of a mutation increases.” While he doesn’t think that means we will immediately see a variant that is completely resistant to vaccines, he believes “what we’ll see is a progressive blunting of its effectiveness.”
There is also limited data available on whether the vaccines offer protection against long Covid. The Office for National Statistics says about 1 million people are currently suffering from the condition in the UK. Many have been experiencing symptoms like fatigue and brain fog for months.
A vaccine-resistant variant would blow a huge hole in Johnson’s greatest success story of the whole pandemic: a speedy rollout of the magic bullet that stops the disease.
The UK has also experienced a huge mental health crisis during the pandemic. Yet, rather than those issues disappearing as a result of restrictions lifting, there is a chance that it could drive further divisions between the public and cause more anxiety and trauma for people who might already be vulnerable.
“Some people will carry on, will continue to wear masks and to distance and they might perceive others as selfish for not doing so; those who don’t do so might see others as overanxious,” says John Drury, professor of social psychology at the University of Sussex.
“Solidarity is good for us, social support is good for us and those around us. It will be a source of distress for a lot of people to have that level of conflict,” he adds.
If this goes badly, there is a real chance it could backfire for Johnson.
“The public has consistently erred on the side of caution and the rules that the government has introduced are often viewed as not going far enough and being introduced too late,” says Joe Twyman, director of public opinion consultancy Deltapoll.
He believes that if a surge in cases and forced self-isolation leads to families canceling holidays and their summers being ruined, it could harm Johnson’s popularity.
“If the situation gets worse, it may damage the government’s position, because perception of how the government is dealing with the pandemic is correlated so closely to their support.”
The worst-case scenario for Johnson might be, Twyman says, if things “go south,” facing whether to “front it out or put in new measures.”
The latter could be a catastrophic U-turn for Johnson, who said that his plan to take his nation out of lockdown was “cautious but irreversible.”
Johnson’s pandemic has been a real mixed bag. Presiding over one of the developed world’s highest death rates, a complete meltdown in testing, and complicated and confusing public messaging, he has been rescued only by a speedy vaccine rollout.
Ne-Yo is a proud father again. Say Congrats to him oooo.
On Friday June 25, his wife, Crystal Smith, announced on Instagram that she has given birth to their third child together, a baby girl. She was born four weeks early and weighed in at just 5 pounds, 7 ounces, according to Smith’s caption.
“God said don’t make plans honey!” she captioned an Instagram photo taken at the hospital. “She came 4 weeks early but right on time for mommy!”
The 5-pound, 7-ounce addition joins the couple’s children Shaffer Chimere Smith Jr., 5, and Roman Alexander-Raj Smith, 3, and Ne-Yo’s kids with his ex, Monyetta Shaw: Madilyn Grace Smith, 10, and Mason Evan Smith, 9.
The couple announced their pregnancy back in February, while celebrating their sixth anniversary. According to Crystal, “My world is now complete.”