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 The Prime Minister was accused of being ready to sacrifice British lives on the altar of a hopelessly outdated Little England ideology – ‘silly Brexit games,’ said Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey.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.

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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.

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Ask yourself what is our alternative and soon the following becomes clear.

So if you are in business you should use this information to clarify the approach we all need to encourage. Look at the Declaration here and join me in signing it.

Great Barrington declaration.

If this is of interest you can also see more on the background to this declaration and hear more from Dr Sunetra Gupta.

By Anc516 – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15130143

Scientists argue against lockdown and urge ‘return to normal’ now to avoid future health crises

Scientists are among thousands of experts warning of “grave concerns” over the physical and mental toll of lockdown and calling for a return to normal living. 

Almost 2,500 medics and scientists from around the world have signed a “declaration” calling for societies to be allowed to reopen, with efforts focused on protecting the most vulnerable.  

Experts from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh have joined others from Harvard, Stanford and other leading US institutions in calling for a new strategy to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Dr Sunetra Gupta, an infectious disease epidemiologist and professor of theoretical epidemiology at the University of Oxford, is among thousands of scientists and medics who have signed the Great Barrington Declaration, named after the US town in which it was drawn up. 

The declaration argues against lockdown policies which it says are “producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health”.

It follows warnings that 75,000 people could die from non-Covid-19 causes as a result of lockdown – almost twice the official death toll caused by coronavirus. 

On Tuesday, scientists said too little attention was being paid to the effect of lockdown on short and long-term public health. 

They warned that “irreparable damage” would be caused by policies aiming to suppress the virus until a vaccine becomes available, with excess deaths in years to come as a result of worsening mental health and reduced access to healthcare. 

“As immunity builds in the population, the risk of infection to all – including the vulnerable – falls,” the scientists wrote, saying the goal should be to “minimise mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity”. 

They continued: “The most compassionate approach, that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.”

Scientists said the continuation of current policies until a vaccination is found would hit the young and most deprived hardest. 

Lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening heart disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health would mean greater excess deaths in years to come, they warned.  

The statement calls for more rigour to be shown in protecting the most vulnerable, with frequent testing of care staff, online grocery deliveries for the retired and pensioners encouraged to meet family members outside where possible. 

Meanwhile, those who are not vulnerable should immediately resume life as normal, the scientists said, with schools and universities having in-person teaching, and young, low-risk adults returning to their workplaces. 

The declaration also calls for the resumption of arts, music, sport and other cultural activities.