Image Credit: Andrew Parsons
With the Brexit transition period’s expiration date of 31 December now looming closer, the trade negotiations with the EU have reached the critical stages and it remains only a matter of time before the British public learns whether the government’s preparations for a no-deal scenario will have to be called into action. It’s without a doubt that the Conservatives will deliver upon the overarching pledge of their 2020 election manifesto, in which they promised to “Get Brexit Done”. Instead, what remains unknown is the level of integration and convergence that the UK economy will continue to maintain with the bloc.
Despite the prime minister not ruling out walking away from negotiations, Boris Johnson didn’t keep to his promise of quitting negotiations if a deal hadn’t been struck by 30 June and this deadline date later became 15 October. Former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib has suggested that Britain’s determination to keep negotiating, despite what Michel Barnier has alluded to as “fundamental differences still remaining”, indicates that the government is more inclined for a deal to be done. It is believed that around 95% of the trade deal has already been agreed and that the likelihood of a deal being struck hinges upon Britain’s willingness to alter its resistance to the EU’s “non-regression clause”. This stipulates that a level playing-field must exist for areas such as state aid, environmental standards, and worker’s rights. With Dominic Raab, foreign secretary, insisting that differences over fishing rights are still halting the completion of a deal, don’t be surprised if the negotiations go down to the wire as Peter Guilford, former EU trade spokesman, reminds us that the “EU’s skill at playing things down to the wire is legendary”.
Ed Halford, Politics Editor.
Climate change has remained a salient issue since the December 2019 election. In November, Boris Johnson announced his ambitious ten-point plan to kickstart a ‘green industrial revolution’. This includes improving public transport and cycle lanes, making buildings more energy efficient, and investing in renewable sources of energy. Crucially, the prime minister committed to phasing out the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030.
Simultaneously, the government’s plan aims to provide “hundreds of thousands of jobs”, which will be vitally important as the country recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. This strategy is a promising start to this government’s term when it comes to the environment, but its success will rely upon whether they can effectively put their ideas into practice over the next four years.
2021 will also see Glasgow host the delayed COP26, giving the UK an opportunity to lead the international effort to combat this intrinsically global problem.
How has the government’s economic policy changed?
Johnson kept his leadership rival, Sajid Javid, on as chancellor when he received a fresh mandate from the electorate back in December last year. For Javid, it was a priority for the government to remain fiscally prudent and keep borrowing for infrastructure projects at a minimum. His dramatic resignation came after rejecting Johnson and Cumming’s ultimatum which demanded that the Treasury cede more control over the making of policy to No10. Rishi Sunak’s rise to the position of Chancellor has seen the introduction of a ‘whatever-it-takes’ approach to Coronavirus and marks a sharp change from the Treasury that he inherited. Sunak’s response has seen government borrowing rise to what is a “peacetime record of almost £400bn this year”. In a speech to Parliament last week, Sunak reiterated that the emergency spending will be around long after lockdown measures are lifted, further departing from Javid’s hands-off strategy.
A year ago, the Conservatives promised 20,000 more police officers in England and Wales by 2023, as well as an increase in ‘stop and search’ powers. 3,005 new police officers have been recruited in the past year which shows progress. However, there has been no increase in stop and search powers. The promised increase in stop and search powers could be limited because of criticisms of police being racially biased when stopping and searching individuals. The police have received increased power and money, £30 million, to enforce government guidance and restrictions through the ability to give out fines. Approximately 20,000 fines have been given out since March. As they are the enforcers of coronavirus restrictions, they have borne the brunt of the opposition which could potentially affect policy to increase police numbers as individuals may be less willing to join the force. Overall, policy towards policing has changed dramatically over the past year, but not massively towards the 2019 manifesto promises.
The key development regarding transport since last December’s election is the abolition of the railway franchise system in September. Exacerbated and demonstrated by the pandemic, the 24-year-old system was deemed unorganised and inefficient. With many railway companies transferred onto temporary contracts, the government announced the move to a concession-based model, with companies under management contracts.
The demand decrease resulting from the pandemic has placed various transportation plans into uncertainty, particularly HS2. Although construction of the high-speed railway project commences, further questions regarding the necessity of the project have been raised, given the economic difficulties and environmental damage.
Meanwhile, after the Court of Appeal ruled against the Heathrow expansion in February, on grounds that it goes against the Paris Agreement, the government chose not to oppose the decision. Despite this, in October it was announced that Heathrow would appeal to the Supreme Court. The proposed expansion is met with intense opposition from political and environmentalist groups.
Developments for the BAME community.
Since last year’s general election, it remains evident that there is still a lot of work to do in abolishing the racial disparities and inequalities that subordinate people from the BAME community. For example, black and minority ethnic people have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, with the risk of death from Covid-19 higher within the BAME community compared with their white counterparts. 2020 has highlighted the structural racism that still pervades parts of America and Europe, however, what is more important is that this year has demonstrated the power that the collective voice of the masses holds. In the period between the last general election and now, we have seen that if governments are unable to adequately address racial issues then the public can take matters into their own hands through avenues such as protests and petitions to uproot racism.
Shaun Odili, Deputy Politics Editor.
Developments that have taken place towards the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights
It is now more important than ever to ensure we are holding the government accountable in regards to policy changes impacting the LGBTQ+ community. Advancements made by previous Conservative governments – such as the 2014 Homophobic, Biphobic and Transphobic Challenge Fund launched in aim of combatting anti-LGBTQ+ bullying, and the pledge made by Theresa May in 2017 to overhaul the Gender Recognition Act – have simply been washed away since December’s general election. Although Johnson has since pledged to outlaw gay conversion therapy, this is not a new promise from the Conservatives, and instead rather reminiscent of the unmet targets set by Theresa May’s government.
Further, despite the government committing to reduce waiting times at NHS gender clinics and to cut the costs of applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate, these moves have been criticised by campaign groups for being nothing but inadequate and short-sighted. It is not yet clear whether these vows are merely to appease the community, or instead small steps towards real change. What is clear, however, is that the voices of the community must be listened to in any future legislative processes if policy is to be inclusive and committed to improving the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals nationwide.
Handling of the Coronavirus Pandemic
Early in his premiership, Mr Johnson finds himself having to answer for much more than his approach to the Brexit negotiations, but also the gawking questions left behind in the carnage of a mismanaged strategy in tackling the spread of Covid-19 which has left the United Kingdom with one of the world’s leading death tolls, at just over 60,000 people. The British people find themselves more divided than ever, quarrelling over the constitutional and the socio-economic ramifications. The localised lockdown regulations have been extensively criticised, accused of accomplishing little but posing the North of England against the South, the local against the national and the devolved administrations against Westminster.
James Abbott, Deputy Politics Editor