2 July 2005
The Spectator was established in 1828, and is the oldest continuously published magazine in the
English language. The Spectator’s taste for controversy, however, remains undiminished. There is no
party line to which The Spectator’s writers are bound - originality of thought and elegance of expression are the
sole editorial constraints.
1. James Forsyth: how Covid-19 has transformed the Brexit negotiations
The Covid pandemic, far from pausing the Brexit talks, has made it all the more urgent that an agreement is found quickly, writes James Forsyth. The UK and the EU will spend next year reshaping their economies and it makes sense to do that knowing what their trading arrangements will be in the medium term. This is why the letter sent by Sir David Frost, Boris Johnson’s chief Brexit negotiator, to his opposite number, Michel Barnier, is so significant. It makes it clear that the two sides are still nowhere near agreement. The Covid crisis has served only to stiffen No. 10’s resolve. The failure of talks would mean that Britain reverts to default WTO rules when the transition period ends on 31 December. There would be border checks and tariffs. In normal times, this would be regarded as the biggest economic shift in a generation. But coronavirus has collapsed world trade and travel, dwarfing any changes Brexit might bring. We are over that cliff edge already, along with everyone else. As one member of the cabinet puts it, ‘the costs of an Australian-style deal have dropped massively’ because so many supply chains have already been disrupted. Downing Street also believes the benefits of taking back powers to reshape the country’s economy may well prove invaluable as the UK thinks about how to rebuild after the pandemic has passed. This approach allows the UK to take a tough line in these negotiations. One of those close to the strategy sums up the view in No. 10: ‘We are not saying a deal can’t happen. But the sort of deal that the EU thinks it wants isn’t going to happen.’ Meanwhile, across the Channel, the Covid crisis has been cruel to the EU, writes Fredrik Erixon. The supposed fraternity of member states was the first casualty of the virus, as countries hoarded their medical equipment and banned exports to each other. The reason this row is so devastating is that it is about sovereignty. Even Ursula von der Leyen has been worried about the EU’s future. ‘We caught a glimpse of the abyss,’ she said recently.
2. Rupert Beale: there can be no herd immunity without a vaccine
Humanity has never developed ‘herd immunity’ to any coronavirus in history, writes Rupert Beale of the Francis Crick Institute. And there’s no guarantee that just because someone has antibodies for Covid-19 they will be immune from the disease. If anything, it’s quite likely that those with mild or no symptoms will be able to contract it again. Which means the only way out of this crisis which doesn’t involve thousands of deaths is for a vaccine to be developed. (Rupert’s bet a case of Corona beer on a vaccine being rolled-out within 18 months.) There’s still cause for optimism, though. Rupert points out that Britain’s testing capacity has been increased massively, which could allow the economy to be opened slowly, without letting the virus spread. But it’s a dangerous fantasy to think that either the economy or the NHS would do well if the virus was allowed to spread uncontrolled.
3. John R. MacArthur: is Trump more left-wing than Biden?
‘A leftist anti-Trumper I may be, but I’ve been strangely impressed by the President’s capacity for perfectly credible, progressive-sounding political analysis, especially on the trade issues,’ writes John R. MacArthur. The President’s stance speaks to the 200,000 Bernie Sanders supporters who voted for him in the three crucial Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2016. Now, in the age of Covid-19, mass unemployment and emergency medical equipment shortages, the issue of free trade and where goods are made has taken on new urgency. ‘Cheap labour turned out to be very expensive,’ Trump said in an interview with Maria Bartiromo of Fox News. His view straightforwardly states what is now indisputable — that outsourcing so much production to China and other low-wage countries has come back to haunt us in a time of crisis and insufficiency. Joe Biden, however, voted for Nafta, Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, the bankruptcy bill, and the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act. This should worry the Democrats. ‘As a stalwart neo-liberal of the Clinton variety — a champion of most things anti-labour, pro-Wall Street and pro-free trade — somnambulant Joe doesn’t realise that Trump, when it suits him, is smart enough to run to his left. To the left of Biden, that is.’
4. Lynn Barber: my gaming hell
The Spectator has a new gaming correspondent for this time in lockdown: Lynn Barber. ‘How witty of The Spectator to choose someone who has never played a computer game in her life,’ she writes, ‘but luckily I have some grandchildren to advise me.’ Lynn tried to play Animal Crossing on the Nintendo Switch because, she is told, it is foolproof. If only. She creates her ‘yucky cartoon’ character and is asked to name her island paradise. ‘I start typing “Hell” but only get as far as “He” when the others all start clapping and saying “It rocks!”. So the island is called He and I am appointed Resident Representative. Can I switch off now?’ By the end of her short time with Animal Crossing Lynn is ‘sobbing with frustration and fury, I just switch off and glug a few glasses of Chilean red. So that was an entire day listening to boring speeches, doing pointless tasks, meeting horrible people, like being back at school. Why do they call it a game? It is servitude.’ Here’s to her next column.
5. Paul Dolan: lockdowns are as contagious as the virus
What would the world look like if the coronavirus had originated in Sweden, asks Paul Dolan, professor of behavioural science at the LSE. Would we have followed its advice and kept our schools open? Like it or not, our choices are often disproportionately shaped by the actions of others. Once Wuhan began its lockdown and countries around the world began to enact their own restrictions, it became almost inevitable that we would follow suit. But we should be wary of making decisions this way. Just as choosing a restaurant purely because it’s busy may lead to a bad meal, so following the rest of the world into a harsh lockdown may end up leading to bad results.