No, “Eyetest” Cummings is not my new best friend. However convincing his criticisms of the prime minister are, the tragedy is that the fallout between the two came much too late for the good of the country. It is not even good enough for Cummings to say that we Remainers are “reasonable people”.
If only this spectacular bust-up had occurred during their all- too-successful Brexit campaign. Alas, it did not, and day by day we receive further news of the disaster. Unfortunately, the general public is, understandably, so concerned about the pandemic that widespread appreciation of the Brexit damage has still to sink in.
Cummings’s onslaught last Wednesday built up slowly. At first he was almost Uriah Heep-like in his modesty. His manner evoking memories of David Copperfield, he almost said “I am very ’umble, Mr Clark” to the impressive chairman of the Commons science committee.
Despite his image, he did not claim to know everything. Despite his onslaught on the prime minister, he too had got things wrong and made mistakes over the timing of lockdown.
Without actually quoting Alexander Pope, he must have been tempted to remind us that “a little learning is a dangerous thing”. Nevertheless, whatever Cummings’s self-confessed deficiencies, the evidence accumulates that Johnson missed his Churchillian moment to proclaim a better-timed lockdown, with the result that goodness knows how many thousands more lives were lost to the pandemic. It is claimed that at a crucial juncture the prime minister was absent by his own leave, belatedly writing part of a book that his anxious publishers were reported as saying would put Shakespeare in his rightful place.
However, I suspect that, after his undeserved “vaccine bounce” in the polls, Johnson himself will be put in his place. A popular view is that he has “Teflon qualities”, but in my experience the Teflon eventually wears off the kitchenware. Cummings is also right in saying there is something wrong with a political system where the choice in the last election was between Johnson and Corbyn.
Johnson’s Brexit is supposed to be about trade, freedom and release from bureaucracy. Our trade in goods with the European Union was down by 23.1% between the first quarter of 2018 and this year. Small and medium-sized businesses all over the country are weighed down by expensive bureaucratic form filling, and some are giving up the attempt to continue trading with our former partners.
Frost said the government was going to hire an external adviser to identify ‘post-Brexit opportunities’. It seems they were so intent on shutting the door that they hadn’t thought much further
At present, freedom of movement around Europe is constrained by the pandemic; soon the impact of the restrictions of Brexit will become more obvious. Indeed, they are already affecting musicians and the young. Meanwhile the Home Office under the execrable Priti Patel is arresting and deporting EU citizens arriving at our borders.
So immigrants were “taking our jobs”, were they? Tell that to the many members of the hospitality industry who say they are having huge difficulties in recruiting staff now that their European workers have gone home. According to the British Meat Processors Association, supplies of meat to supermarkets are slowing down because most of the skilled butchers are from EU countries and are leaving Britain. I don’t think Vegan Britain was on the side of Johnson’s referendum bus. I also gather that certain comfortably off people who voted Leave are even having trouble hiring au pairs!
The stupidity of Brexit is now being compounded by the stupidity of Lord Frost, our chief negotiator with the EU.
It is obvious that we need as good a relationship with our former partners as possible, yet Frost goes out of his way to antagonise them. The advantages of Brexit? Well, Frost recently told the oddly named Commons European scrutiny committee that the government was going to hire an external adviser to identify “post-Brexit opportunities”. It seems they were so intent on shutting the door that they hadn’t thought much further.
Worry not. Frost says: “We have high hopes of outside input into this process.” Brexit was “a huge opportunity … to identify opportunities”.
The best advice from an external adviser would be to tell Frost to grow up and seek to regain as many of the advantages and privileges of EU membership as we can.
By the way I laughed recently when, amid the fallout from the Martin Bashir scandal, Brexiters were adding accusations of a pro-Remain bias at the BBC during the referendum campaign and after.
I must say: it escaped me. I lost count of the frequency of Nigel Farage’s appearances – and I was never aware of much BBC coverage of the advantages of membership. To my mind the BBC was, well, balanced.