Boris Johnson is living through the most politically difficult days of his life since becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. With just 10 days until the end of a tumultuous year, Johnson is mired in colliding crises, some of which are entirely of his own creation.
The most recent catastrophe to hit Downing Street comes in the form of the UK being cut off from the vast majority of its European neighbors. Numerous European countries decided that all travel from the UK should be banned, following Johnson’s announcement on Saturday that a new and potentially more infectious variant of Covid-19 was spreading through the population, prompting the PM to upend the Christmas plans of millions.
Most significantly for Brits, France has extended its ban to all accompanied freight.
This means that British goods destined for France cannot leave the UK, which is of course a huge concern to British exporters. Arguably more worrying is the fear that it will discourage European exporters sending produce to the UK for fear of getting stranded in England.
Industry groups say they are confident of food supplies in the final days before Christmas but warned of major disruption if the freight situation is not resolved. Sainsbury’s, one of the country’s leading supermarket chains, said if nothing changes the UK will start to see gaps on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit – all of which are imported from European countries at this time of year.
It is hard to fully stress how bad a time it is for this disruption to happen with just 10 days until the Brexit transition period ends on December 31. The lack of clarity on what happens on January 1 meant that logistics officials expected stockpiling of food and medicine ahead of that date. Now, there is a risk of shortages of both.
There are also serious concerns at what the restrictions mean for Covid-19 vaccines entering the UK.
Johnson was already facing a torrid 10 days. Critics had accused the Prime Minister of trying to blag his way to the end of the year by choosing to take Brexit talks down to the wire. And many were furious with him for promising that Brits would be able to get together and celebrate Christmas. Now, the UK is getting a preview of exactly how bad things could be in two weeks’ time, if Brexit really does cause severe disruption to imports.
Johnson must be wondering if any of this was avoidable. He ended a national lockdown on December 2, while simultaneously saying that citizens would be allowed to create Christmas bubbles of three households for five days, December 23 to 28. In that time, the virus spread and forced Johnson to U-turn the weekend before Christmas.
Had he extended the lockdown until December 23, meaning Brits were self-isolating before traveling to other parts of the country, he might have been able to keep his Christmas promise.
Had the virus not got out of hand, he wouldn’t have needed to give that Saturday evening news conference, prompting Britain’s neighbors to place them in enforced international quarantine.
And had the Prime Minister extended the Brexit transition period on the grounds of living through a global pandemic before the June deadline, or recognized that taking Brexit down to the wire left him at the mercy of events beyond his control, perhaps Brits wouldn’t be watching aghast as several of the country’s worst nightmares have collided at the end of an awful year.