‘It’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible.’
– Goldman Sachs boss David Solomon on home working.
We will soon see a full return to normal, and business should prepare as such now. Most of us avoided the inane press conferences last year as much for our sanity as for our need to get on with running our businesses regardless. However, there was an exciting slip of honesty from an open, ungeared comment by Boris Johnson this week. Asked if he thought city centres needed adaption for a new normal of people working from home, the PM said he thought people are keen to get back to seeing people under normal circumstances.
Restrictions should be dropped “completely” once the top nine priority groups have been vaccinated, a senior Conservative MP has said as he warns ministers against “changing the goal posts”.
Mark Harper, former chief whip and chairman of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG), said he feared the goal posts for reopening society were being shifted beyond the original focus of NHS pressure and daily fatalities.
“I think what people are worried about is you then keep hearing other things creeping into the argument about the rate of infection and other things keep being thrown into the debate which sounds like it’s changing the goal posts,” he told the BBC’s World at One.
“I think we should keep focused on protecting the vulnerable, reducing deaths and hospitalisations and the pressure on the health service – and those are the two things I think that need to drive opening up.”
Of all the charges made against Brexiteers, the notion that we ‘don’t understand the modern world’ is the one that some Remainers have most often returned to; their equivalent of the boxer’s stinging jab that relentlessly wears down an opponent. In a global system increasingly dominated by a handful of big players with huge populations and land mass – the US, China, India, Russia – being a medium-sized nation in Europe without the umbrella of the EU was supposed to be a mug’s game.
In the European Parliament, that arch-federalist Guy Verhofstadt would often refer to the countries of Europe as ‘dwarfs’ who needed to band together to compete in such a world. We all remember Barack Obama trotting out a similar thesis during our referendum campaign, delighting David Cameron’s Downing Street team by saying that Britain would be at the ‘back of the queue’ in trade talks because he would look to deal with ‘a big bloc, the European Union’ first.
When Boris Johnson decided last spring to stay out of the European Union’s Covid vaccine programme out came the jab again from the usual suspects. The Prime Minister was accused of being ready to sacrifice British lives on the altar of a hopelessly outdated Little England ideology – ‘silly Brexit games,’ said Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey. The EU’s massive combined purchasing-power was going to leave us scrabbling about for crumbs.
The Brexiteer answer to such charges has always been that, in fact, there are many advantages to acting as an independent nation state – quicker decision-making processes, the ability to pursue national priorities, more accountability to the public. These arguments have often been summed up by deployment of the word ‘nimble’.
Well, ‘nimble’ has just beaten ‘big bloc’ hands down on the most important post-Brexit issue Britain has yet faced and is likely to face for many months – the provision of life-saving and economy-saving vaccines.
Meanwhile, the European Commission has compounded its hideously embarrassing, ultra-bureaucratic failure to secure its own supplies by resorting to bullying, tantrums and ultimately full-on meltdown in the form of its triggering (and subsequent u-turn) of Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to implement a hard border.
This morning’s update from the Office for National Statistics has boosted optimism about the UK’s economic recovery. GDP fell 2.6 per cent in November, reversing the trend of six consecutive months of increases since April’s significant contraction. This takes GDP back down 8.5 per cent below February’s levels – wiping out the recovery gains made between roughly the end of July and November.
Not, on the surface, good news. But the case for optimism comes alongside the context of what was happening in November: England’s second lockdown and a host of fire-breaks and circuit-breaks throughout the UK. November’s significantly smaller contraction compared with the March shutdown has forecasters thinking that the economy may have become more resilient to lockdowns.