Vaccine politics look like normal politics – just more extreme

Point of Order has been consistent in anticipating an irritable post-Brexit relationship between Britain and the EU.  But who would have thought vaccine politics would develop as a major flashpoint, let alone a possible relationship breaker?

Even hyper-critical Brits have had to acknowledge that the UK government is a leader in the global vaccination rollout.  And as more background information seeps into the public arena, the British government’s decisiveness in supporting vaccine development, committing early to contracts and driving mass vaccination is looking better and better.

But the same comparisons spell political danger for European politicians. Co-ordination by the EU appears to have resulted in slowness: slowness in making commitments, in tweaking the production process and in approving the product.

Continue reading “Vaccine politics look like normal politics – just more extreme”

Boris Johnson: the man who saved Europe?

This year has seen some spectacular political victories: Jacinda Ardern in NZ’s election and now Boris’s post-Brexit trade treaty with the EU. But having secured a triumph, the risk is in resting on the laurels, when one should be looking to exploit to the full.

And Boris’s victory does look comprehensive. His critics alternated between saying he would never get a deal or it would be a very bad one. In fact, he has achieved his main objectives of rolling over the existing tariff-and-quota-free trade terms and securing recognition of the UK’s sovereign equality in managing the ongoing relationship.

Continue reading “Boris Johnson: the man who saved Europe?”

Covid vaccine is important but it’s only a beginning

Never let a crisis go to waste, said Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s first Chief of Staff.  In the Covid-stricken northern hemisphere, some people have taken the message to heart.

The mood feels different from in the first wave.  Despite London moving into tier three measures, the volume of traffic is consistent with many people having adapted to new conditions.  The roll-out of the UK’s vaccination programme indicates a clearer direction and sense of urgency from the British government.  There is now a path, with the possibility of rapid improvement.

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Innovation works very well indeed

Matt Ridley – former science editor of The Economist and prolific popular science writer – has tackled a slippery subject in his book How Innovation Works’. He succeeds in painting a vibrant and at times counter intuitive picture of this process. One that policy makers and public alike can usefully ponder.

A major contribution is demystification.  He trashes the model of a tortured genius locked in the lab. Innovation comes from lots of people, competing or in concert, working by trial and error, sharing or stealing knowledge. It occurs when the conditions are right, because it bubbles out of the accumulation and testing of knowledge (hence the prevalence of simultaneous invention from calculus to light bulbs). ‘Ideas having sex’ is his metaphor of choice. And this tends to happen where innovators can gather and experiment free of restrictions.   

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Brexit ho – is a deal in sight?

On again, off again.  Then, after British PM Boris Johnson’s statement that there was no point in continuing negotiations without movement from the EU, there are signals that a trade and economic deal might be possible in the next few weeks.

We shall see.  But it’s a good moment to pay tribute to the skill of the negotiators and their principals.

Continue reading “Brexit ho – is a deal in sight?”

Breach-of-international-law row unlikely to deflect Boris Johnson’s trade negotiating strategy

Opponents of Brexit are finding it hard to pick winnable fights.  

The latest stoush: the UK’s withdrawal treaty gives the EU powers over the Northern Ireland market; the EU has suggested (should an FTA not be agreed) that these might be used to hinder the flow of goods to the province from the rest of the UK; so the British government intends to  take powers in its internal market bill to stop this.

Cue outrage at the possible breach of the withdrawal treaty and thus international law.

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A clear UK position puts Brussels under pressure in the EU / UK trade negotiations

Early September, after the holidays, is when Brussels resumes business. Early on the agenda is whether the EU’s leadership abandons their negotiating strategy for a post-Brexit trade deal, as British PM Boris Johnson ups the pressure.

So far the EU’s negotiators have insisted that the UK must submit to unequal treatment in the relationship (for example, in regulatory policy, state support of industry and dispute resolution) if the UK is to retain some level of trade privilege above World Trade Organisation (WTO) minima.   

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Scotland forever – but in or out of the UK?

It may rank as one of the most surprising and/or least effective public health measures adopted during the pandemic.  But Scotland’s devolved government has outlawed background music in hotels and restaurants because it might encourage people to raise their voices.

Indeed, the Scottish administration has sometimes ostentatiously gone out of its way to take a different path to that trodden by Boris Johnson’s national government. Meanwhile, opinion polling support for Scottish independence is rising.

Using the pandemic to beat the drum for Scottish independence must irritate those who prefer science-based consistency.  But they probably need to get used to it. Continue reading “Scotland forever – but in or out of the UK?”

A moment of truth for the EU in the post-Brexit trade talks

Covid, summer holidays and the usual foreign policy rows have overshadowed the EU/UK post-Brexit trade talks.  A pity because this looks like a – perhaps the – key moment, as the ever astute Wolfgang Munchau points out in the Financial Times.

The issue is the EU’s insistence that the UK conform with the EU’s state aid and competition policy – in broad terms, the regime whereby the authorities arbitrate and ensure consistency between the member states’ freedom of action in industry regulation, promotion and subsidy. Continue reading “A moment of truth for the EU in the post-Brexit trade talks”