Archive for the ‘Foreign policy’ Category

Plagues and wars alter economic policies: but not for ever | William Keegan

Coronavirus has changed Britain’s social and political orthodoxies. But not every crisis results in a revolution

As a classical scholar, our prime minister will be all too aware of some uncanny parallels between the onset of coronavirus and the plague that beset Athens in 430BC.

The immortal historian Thucydides wrote: “At the beginning the doctors were quite incapable of treating the disease because of their ignorance of the right methods … In fact, mortality among the doctors was the highest of all since they came more frequently in contact with the sick.”

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UK government in row with EU over proposed office in Belfast

UK rejected initial request from Brussels during negotiations on post-Brexit Irish border controls

The British government has rejected an EU request to open an office in Belfast, in the first major row over the implementation of the post-Brexit Irish border protocol.

The EU closed its offices across the UK when the country left the bloc on 31 January, but its officials have a right to be present to monitor the checks and controls on goods crossing the Irish Sea.

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The pandemic is exposing the weaknesses of populism

The Covid-19 pandemic may be exposing the weaknesses of populism. We should not be complacent, however, as authoritarianism is the real problem, warns Daphne Halikiopoulou (University of Reading).

Covid-19 has already infected over 700,000 people worldwide (at the time of writing). Its exponential spread has placed national health systems under severe strain, it has closed borders, and grounded airlines. How may we assess the political implications of this global crisis, especially given that it comes at a time when populists who thrive on the tensions between international initiatives and the ‘national preference’, are in charge in many countries?

As political scientists, we often refrain from making predictions about the future, especially in situations such as this, which are fluid and fast-evolving. What we can do, however, is try to identify likely outcomes by observing patterns. For this, we need comparisons: by identifying differences and common trajectories we may gain some insight into what might happen under similar circumstances. What follows is a brief sketch of how what we know, from comparing cases past and present, can help us understand the political implications of the coronavirus pandemic, especially with regard to populism.

A brief look at how different countries have sought to address this crisis suggests that responding early is key to doing effectively. For example, tracking, testing, and containing infection clusters is of paramount importance. This highlights two issues. First, the significance of state capacity, i.e. the ability of the state to extract its resources efficiently, implement policies effectively, and safeguard the lives and security of its citizens. Second, the importance of expertise – we need epidemiologists, doctors, and medical staff to advise on how the virus can be contained.

This is all bad news for populists who thrive on emotive but often empty rhetoric. It exposes them, especially those in power, and places them under scrutiny as voters are increasingly prioritising valence – i.e. competence – over emotive narratives. This is why it is difficult to discern a specifically populist pattern. With few exceptions, initial reactions dismissing fears and downplaying the effects of the virus, have been met with quick U-turns. In the UK, Johnson’s ‘herd immunity’ strategy defined by a ‘we can do it alone and differently from Europe’ attitude was quickly replaced by measures not dissimilar to those adopted by ‘non-populist’ European leaders, including school and shop closures and full lockdowns. Similarly, while Donald Trump’s pompous rhetoric suggests an intention to re-open the country by Easter, current measures are treating some cities as epidemiological ‘hot zones’. In Greece, where until recently politics was contested primarily on populist lines, the technocratic centre-right government quickly closed schools and churches – note that contradicting the Church is something few Greek governments have been willing and able to do. While Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro is resisting the trend, Sao Paolo has gone into lockdown, and the president’s popularity is in decline. In short, what these cases are telling us is that at least in the short run, the populist tide could be turning because the provision of expert-led security is of utmost priority to people.

Should we be relieved? The short answer is no. The coronavirus pandemic may have highlighted the extent to which the term ‘populism’ itself is inflated and overused. But as autocratic-minded leaders rally around the flag to increase support at a time of heightened insecurity, the threats they pose are real. Take down the populist façade, and what we are left with is the traditional nationalist and authoritarian politics of the kind that often manifests itself after a crisis.

One important lesson from the past is that in similar crisis situations, leaders have taken advantage of emergencies to consolidate power. The current pandemic is no different. Right-wing nationalists in government, and opposition, have been quick to blame immigrants and refugees for the spread of the pandemic, using them as an excuse to attack freedom of movement. Others – for example in Hungary and Israel – have used it as an opportunity for power abuse. What should concern us about many of these actors, that we call populist, is not actually their populism – an ideology that draws on a distinction between the good people and the bad elites – but rather their nationalist, authoritarian, and/or a far-right agenda. Orbán can impose his undemocratic measures not because he is a populist, but because he is authoritarian. Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini blame immigrants for the pandemic not because they are populists, but because they are nationalists.

This could result in severe long-term political consequences. In cases where democratic institutions are weak, there is a serious risk of further democratic backsliding. The long-term economic costs of the crisis can only serve to exacerbate this. We already know that wealth inequalities, a decline of social status, and limited access to compensation can serve to drive voters closer to extremism.

A very fine line divides a strong paternalistic, but effective, state that protects its citizens, from an authoritarian one that curtails their freedoms. People are willing to trade-off their liberties for collective security, but for how long? The answer to this question depends on how successfully we can balance the trade-offs involved, and exit this crisis having simultaneously protected our vulnerable, and retained our liberal democratic values. This is no easy task. While the current pandemic may be unique in its specificities, it is not unprecedented in terms of what it represents: an emergency situation that exposes systemic weaknesses and threatens the stability of our societies. Lessons learned from parallel historical precedents may offer us the benefit of hindsight.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE. Image: Public Domain. Image: cc0-icon CC0 Public Domain.

The scale of the coronavirus crisis exposes how pointless the Brexit cause is | Rafael Behr

Brexiteers’ war on imaginary threats now looks parochial and self-indulgent – history may judge them harshly

This might not feel like the moment to go on about Brexit, but Brexit goes on whether we are feeling it or not. When people are worried about surviving April, December’s deadline for EU trade talks seems a long way off. Covid-19 may have eclipsed older problems, but they will not solve themselves in its shadow.

The disease has halted negotiations and infected the lead negotiators. All Whitehall capacity is being spent on the immediate crisis. Boris Johnson has no time for Brexit. If he did, he might want to practise some social distancing from the idea.

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Extend Brexit transition by years over coronavirus, UK told

European People’s party says it hopes ‘common sense will prevail over ideology’

The largest group in the European parliament has urged the UK government to do “the responsible thing” and extend the Brexit transition period, as coronavirus plays havoc with the timetable for an EU-UK deal.

The centre-right European People’s party (EPP), which unites the parties of 11 EU leaders, including Angela Merkel and Leo Varadkar, issued a statement on Monday calling on the government to extend the Brexit transition beyond the end of the year.

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EU citizens in UK at risk of becoming illegal as coronavirus response prioritised

Campaigners urge government to replace settled status process with guaranteed ‘right to stay’

Campaigners fear that EU citizens who have made their homes in the UK are at risk of becoming illegal as the government diverts resources to fight coronavirus.

Under current rules, all EU citizens have until June 2021 to apply for settled status. However, there are concerns that the pandemic will mean that the government support available to help EU citizens will reduce, and public awareness campaigns, designed to reach the most vulnerable people and those without an online presence, will be delayed.

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UK-EU talks on post-Brexit relations ‘in deep freeze’

Brussels laments London’s failure to table comprehensive legal text to work on

Planned negotiating rounds on the UK’s future relationship with the EU have been abandoned as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with Boris Johnson’s government still to table a comprehensive legal text for both sides to work on.

During a European commission briefing on Thursday, envoys for the EU capitals were told that holding negotiations via video-conferencing had so far proved impossible.

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