Daniel Hannan: Distracted and passive, the Government has yet to grasp the full advantages of Brexit

5 Jan

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere is a Conservative peer, writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

Brexit, on its own, does not add or subtract a farthing from our national wealth. All it does is remove constraints, allowing us to make different choices. Those choices will determine our success. We can opt for the formula that always guarantees growth – lighter regulation, freer trade, lower, flatter and simpler taxes – or we can go the other way, rewarding politically-connected industries and giving into demands for higher spending.

A year has passed since the EU’s transition period came to an end, giving us the freedom to make these choices. Now seems as useful a time as any to assess which way we are going.

We should first note that 2021 was a worse year than almost anyone expected when it began. Remember the relief with which we greeted the end of 2020. After nine months of intermittent lockdowns, we finally had vaccines and with them, it seemed, a clear way out of the crisis. But a new lockdown was decreed on January 4 – supposedly until mid-February although, in the event, parts of it were left in place until July. So we should not infer too much from an atypical year. None the less, we can make a tentative early reckoning.

Some of the positives were listed by Boris Johnson last week:

“We’ve replaced free movement with a points-based immigration system. We’ve secured the fastest vaccine rollout anywhere in Europe last year by avoiding sluggish EU processes. And from Singapore to Switzerland, we’ve negotiated ambitious free trade deals to boost jobs and investment here at home. But that’s not all. From simplifying the EU’s mind-bogglingly complex beer and wine duties to proudly restoring the crown stamp on to the side of pint glasses, we’re cutting back on EU red tape and bureaucracy and restoring common sense to our rulebook.”

He’s plainly right about the vaccination programme. Had we still been in the EU, we would never have opted out of the cumbersome collective purchasing scheme which, let’s remember, almost every British Europhile clamoured to join.

As for trade, there have been gains, but they have so far been stunted. A combination of bureaucratic inertia, rent-seeking and general protectionism has limited our ambition – even with as close an ally as Australia. The resistance to free movement of labour, for example, was wholly on the British side, as was the foot-dragging on cheaper food.

Free-trade is counter-intuitive, running up against our hunter-gatherer instinct for self-sufficiency. Even so, ministers have so far not been radical enough. We need to think like New Zealanders, eliminating barriers regardless of lobbying by vested interests. We need to understand that unrestricted imports make our industries more efficient. We need to remember that “cheap” is not a dirty word: giving our consumers more spending power is what drives our economy.

The PM gets all this, at least in theory. Two years ago, in Greenwich, he offered the strongest and most eloquent defence of free trade yet put forward by a head of government. Invoking Adam Smith and David Ricardo and Richard Cobden, he went on to diagnose where the world was going wrong:

“The mercantilists are everywhere, the protectionists are gaining ground. From Brussels to China to Washington tariffs are being waved around like cudgels even in debates on foreign policy where frankly they have no place; and there is an ever-growing proliferation of non-tariff barriers and the resulting tensions are letting the air out of the tyres of the world economy.”

What was the solution? Why, for Britain to resume her historic role:

“There lies the port, the vessel puffs her sail, the wind sits in the mast. We are embarked now on a great voyage, a project that no one thought in the international community that this country would have the guts to undertake. But we commit to the logic of our mission: open, outward-looking, generous, welcoming, championing global free trade now when global free trade needs a global champion.”

Good stuff, no? Yet, in the very first test case – whether to retain the steel tariffs that the EU had imposed in retaliation against Donald Trump – Downing Street overruled the Trade Remedies Authority and kept the levies in place, largely so that a handful Conservative MPs could boast about standing up for local producers. We have thus sent a message to every politically-connected industry: if you want special favours at the expense of the general population, the door of Number 10 is open.

When it comes to deregulation, too, the rhetoric has been ahead of the reality. The Government was very warm in its language when, in June, Iain Duncan Smith, Theresa Villiers and George Freeman produced a well thought-out and serious plan to remove some of the more needless and expensive EU rules. And, to be fair, it has made some positive changes beyond those listed by the PM: restoring pint bottles of champagne, scrapping the tampon tax and so on.

But the most burdensome EU regulations have so far been left in place: the Clinical Trials Directive, the Ports Services Regulation, the Temporary Workers’ Directive, the End of Life Vehicles Directive, the droit de suite rules, the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive, MiFID II, the bonus cap.

Repeal is always difficult once an industry has had to assimilate compliance costs. Established actors don’t want new entrants avoiding those costs, and so become advocates for measures they originally opposed. For example, 15 years ago, the entire chemical sector was opposed to the EU’s REACH Directive, which replaced a risk-based approach to importing chemicals with a pricey and prescriptive list system.

Now, having gone through the hassle of implementing it, the industry wants to keep it. It is difficult, in such circumstances, for a minister to say, “I understand your position, but I have a responsibility to start-ups, innovators and, above all, consumers”. And so, again and again, we have taken the line of least resistance and left things as they are – or worse, as in the case of REACH, expensively recreated our own version of the EU’s regime.

For all these reasons, it is often easier to let regulations wither on the vine than to hack them back. Over time, many regulations cease to be relevant. Who cares, these days, what the rules are for fax machines or word processors? Britain could, in theory, acquire a cumulative competitive advantage simply by not adopting the new regulations that the EU does.

Again, though, this requires a conscious effort. If, for example, we decree unusually cumbersome carbon taxes, we shall fall behind more pragmatic countries.

Brexit could mean cheaper energy: we could cut prices by disapplying some EU rules or, if that is too much, by regulating more lightly in future. But we are choosing to do the opposite.

Brexit could mean cheaper food. Outside the Common Agricultural Policy, we could remove tariffs, quotas and other barriers. But we seem reluctant to do so.

Inflation is taking off, but we are not pulling any of the levers that might mitigate it. Instead of cutting taxes, and so giving people more disposable income, we are raising National Insurance, squeezing household budgets further.

Yes, a lot of this has to do with the epidemic – not just in the immediate sense that we are half a trillion pounds worse off, but in the wider sense that the crisis has made voters more illiberal and statist.

Has Covid-19 killed our appetite for reform entirely? We’ll know soon enough. The Government seems to have decided to try to keep things open rather than paying people to stay at home. The PM’s could now make some of the reforms arrested by the pandemic. If he doesn’t, we must conclude that he never will.

Richard Holden: Covid has kept Britain in chains since we left the EU. Now we’re set to break free.

4 Jan

Mounter and Sons Sawmill, Willington, Co. Durham

A hard core of my colleagues in Parliament are Brexperts. Many spent decades campaigning against – or in some cases for – Britain’s membership of the European Union. It is the issue that in no small part tipped constituencies like mine ‘over the edge’ between 2015 and 2019.

Finally, the scales fell from local people’s eyes, and they saw what they’d had an inkling of for some time: that Labour no longer respected the view, or even the votes, of people in North West Durham. Inner-London Labour thought it knew better and the public, finally, gave it the boot across the Red Wall.

The first big piece of legislation that the 2019 intake of Conservative MPs voted for was the EU Withdrawal Agreement. This month marks a year on from the end of the so called ‘transition period’, when our ties to the European Union were severed de facto, as well as de jure. Some said would be the start of ‘Britannia Unchained’ and others predicted would be the greatest foreign policy disaster since Suez.

Within a few weeks of MPs voting through the Withdrawal Agreement, the global pandemic hit. What leaders in Britain and the EU had thought would be the biggest challenge of the decade – Brexit– suddenly became secondary. And the impact of leaving the EU, whatever side of the debate you were on, now feels small fry compared to the: lockdowns, colossal borrowing, and worldwide efforts that have gone into tackling Covid.

I’m tempted to put my neck on the line at this point, and say that we’re coming to the end of Covid. Like the rest of the country – and the world – let’s pray that is the case. And if it is, what lay behind Brexit will return centre-stage alongside the fall-out from the virus

While many will groan at the prospect of the return of Brexit as a political issue, I welcome it wholeheartedly. I long to see the eyes of Government and the country lifted from two years of crisis management to a discussion about where we now see ourselves, and how we deliver it. The country is sick to death of circular debates about the social etiquette of mask wearing and meeting via Zoom and Teams.

Like my Conservative colleagues from every intake, I am desperate for Parliament to be at the heart of the debate about international trade, securing our borders and Britain’s place in the world.

During the pandemic, we’ve seen flashes of the future. Such as: AUKUS – the new tripartite defence agreement with Australia and the United States. The UK’s application to join the Trans-Pacific-Partnership. Improved post-EU trade deals with Japan, Australia, and many other countries, alongside scores of roll-over deals.

There will be challenges. How to manage the place of Northern Ireland in the UK raises profound constitutional questions. With the Northern Ireland Assembly elections looming large, dealing with a Sinn Fein First Minister (if the polls are to be believed) in a few months will be challenging.

Mounter and Sons, a wood pallet manufacturer in my constituency, is facing increased costs and bureaucracy in dealing with the EU. The most substantial of these is heating all pallets leaving for the EU, which wasn’t required before Brexit. This is just one of examples from my own constituency of blocks to trade that both sides surely want to see removed in further negotiations to the benefit of all concerned. These are eminently achievable if the will is there.

In 2016, my constituents voted to leave the European Union. And in 2019, they voted again to finally make it happen. After two years of the focus of the Government being elsewhere – rightly – it’s time start reminding people again that they made the correct choice both times.

That means getting some focus back on getting Britain out into the world, and dealing with those very tricky issues Brexit throws up. After the last couple of years, that task of unchaining Britannia seems more manageable, and getting on with it will be welcomed more than ever by the whole country.

Garvan Walshe: Four ways in which democracies can fight back against China’s state gangsterism

23 Dec

Garvan Walshe is a former national and international security policy adviser to the Conservative Party.

Peng Shuai, a Chinese Tennis player, accused a former Chinese vice premier of sexual assault on the Chinese social network, Weibo.

The post then disappeared, and so did she. Six weeks later, she gave an interview to a pro-Beijing Chinese language newspaper denying she had ever made the allegation. Far from clearing things up, this stage-managed recantation reeks of state gangsterism.

The behaviour is part of a pattern of violence and intimidation that has intensified since Xi consolidated power in China. It goes beyond traditional targets of Chinese policy like Hong Kong and Taiwan, and takes in anyone that dares to cross the regime’s leadership.

Sometimes it is absurd (demanding that all Amazon reviews of Xi Jinping’s new book shown in China receive five stars), but more more often it is sinister – as demonstrated by the sanctions applied to Lithuania, the attempts to intimidate German companies that use Lithuanian suppliers, and the politically motivated prosecutions of Canadian businessmen Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who were only released after legitimate charges were dropped against a Huawei executive.

China has turned globalisation into a weapon, and Western democracies need to develop a systematic defence. During the 1990s and 2000s, a combination of wishful thinking and greed allowed China to enrich itself through a globalised economy while maintaining an ideology hostile to the rules on which the international order was based.

Democratic countries have started to understand and correct this error in individual cases: Australia has sought stronger security guarantees from the United States through AUKUS. The UK has removed Chinese involvement in British nuclear electricity infrastructure, and the new Czech government, for instance, is likely to adopt a more sceptical approach to Huawei’s provision of 5G infrastructure.

While these changes are welcome, it is time to consider a more systematic approach. A first mistake of the 1990s was to think that economic growth would lead to democratic change. Though there may have been merit in the theory that wealthier middle classes are more likely to demand accountable government, it was unwise to base policy on a “law” among whose exceptions may be counted Russia and Turkey, as well as China.

A second, less well-understood error was to think it possible to depoliticise business in authoritarian states. Instead, the opposite happens: businesses, which need to make money after all, are being held hostage to the regimes’ agendas, whether these matters are as trivial as reviews of the Xi Jinping’s book, or as geopolitically pointed as Lithuania’s support for Taiwan.

Western foreign investment is subject to extortion, while authoriarian investment in the West is used to finance strategic corruption. Western libel laws are then used to attempt to silence its exposure (as Catherine Belton, who has successfully defended her Putin’s People from a fusillade of lawsuits can attest).

The lesson is that the globalisation of finance is only reliable when mechanisms exist to enforce the depoliticisation of business, whether through domestic courts that enforce international agreements, or Investor State Dispute resolution agreements when domestic courts cannot be trusted.

This applies equally to sport, where athletes should not be compelled to follow regime agendas either, and should be free to seek justice for crimes committed against them by the regimes.

That we instead have had to rely on the courage of HarperCollins, Belton’s publisher, or the Women’s Tennis association, which has stood by Peng Shuai, is not good enough. Democracies, acting together, need to start thinking about how to protect their sports organisations and busiesspeople from capture and extortion by powerful dictatorships.

There are four things democracies should do.

First, ensure protection from arbitrary retaliation, such as that China is trying to impose on Lithuania, by establishing automatic means of retaliation. To work well, these need to be done by democracies together. The EU is proposing an “anti-coercion” instrument for this purpose. The UK, US, and other democratic states should follow suit, and include countries like South Korea, which are too small to resist Chinese pressure on their own.

Second, sporting and research organisations could be supported, or compelled, make competitions and research cooperation conditional on ensuring the political independence and academic freedom of participants. Democratic countries dominate these areas to ensure such conditions are upheld. Even FIFA, happy to sell out to non-footballing Qatar would have to pay attention — who would watch a world cup in which democratic countries didn’t participate?

Third, in a sort of “democratic preference,” future economic integration should be focused on democratic countries, and could include snap-back clauses to remove priveleges if democracy decays.

Finally, democracies should act collectively against strategic corruption, leaving kleptocrats without a safe place to stash their money.

Peng Shuai’s treatment by the Chinese regime should reinforce the warning delivered to Michael Spavor and Michael Korvig. Neither celebrity or foreign citizenship can protect you from becoming an instrument of the regime’s intimidation. The naive globalisation of the 1990s has become a liability. Democracies need to beef up their defences against the Chinese dictatorship.

Charlotte Gill’s Podcasts Review 6) Christopher Hope with Mark Francois, Ailbhe Rea and Stephen Bush with Mark Harper

8 Dec

Every fortnight, ConservativeHome will compile a handful of podcast recommendations – content that has been published in the weeks preceding – for its readers. Although these will mainly focus on podcasts for conservative listeners, we will try to include other options – should they be particularly interesting. Sometimes this feature will contain other types of media.

Title: Chopper’s Politics
Host: Christopher Hope
Episode: Pricey PCR tests and ‘Remainer Publishers’

Duration: 40:09 minutes
Published: December 2

What’s it about?

There’s a lot crammed into this 40-minute episode of Chopper’s Politics, starting with the appearance of Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, who talks to Hope about all things Covid travel-related. But the part of the podcast that has attracted the most media attention is its host’s chat with Mark Francois, the ERG Chair, about his latest book Spartan Victory. Francois delves into the process of writing the book, and how it went down with “Remainer” publishers, as well as offering his latest views on Brexit.

Some teaser quotes:

Shapps:

  • (On the Omicron variant): “I don’t think it’s going right the way back to the bad old days”.
  • (On Labour’s description of HS2): ‘I have never heard £96 billion pounds of expenditure described as ‘crumbs’ before”.

Francois:

  • (On the triggering of Article 16): “I don’t think this can wait forever. If you keep threatening to do it, and you don’t do it, after a while you look weak.”
  • “I did approach – over the last year – quite a number of publishing houses… with the aid of a literary agent. In a nutshell the problem was that the orthodoxy within the publishing industry is very, very much Remain.”
Verdict

A fun interview that covers a huge amount of political territory.

Title: The New Statesman Podcast
Host: Ailbhe Rea and Stephen Bush
Episode: How a chief whip became a rebel, with Mark Harper MP

Duration: 27:33 minutes
Published: December 7

What’s it about?

In this discussion, Mark Harper, Head of the Covid Recovery Group, talks to The New Statesman about a number of issues, ranging from his time as chief whip under David Cameron, to his thoughts on the Labour Party and whether it’s been a useful Opposition during the Coronavirus crisis, to why he’s become a “rebel” after years of supporting the Government.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “The thing I’ve mostly rebelled on has been on Covid, and it’s partly been about the policy, but it’s also been about how you treat Parliament”.
  • On Labour’s Covid response: “They’ve basically given the Government a blank cheque; they’ve agreed things before they’ve even seen them, and someone had to do that scrutiny work”.
  • “On most things, I am very supportive of the Government. It’s just there are one or two things where I’m not, and I’m very clear about that. I haven’t suddenly become a rebel on everything.”
Verdict

A brief, but all-encompassing, insight into Harper’s politics and what’s made him a Covid rebel.

Duration: 24:31 minutes
Published: December 7

Title: UnHerd
Host: Freddie Sayers
Episode: Inside Australia’s Covid internment camp

Duration: 20:14 minutes
Published: December 2

What’s it about?

Get ready to have your jaw drop watching this video. During the course, Hayley Hodgson, a former retail assistant, talks to Freddie Sayers of UnHerd about her horrendous time stuck in one of Australia’s Covid internment camps, “Howard Springs”. The conditions Hodgson was subjected to, when she didn’t even have Covid, are dystopian to put it mildly.

Some teaser quotes:
  • “They said ‘no, you’re getting taken away. And you have no choice. You’re going to Howard Springs. You either come with us now, and we’ll put you in the back of the divvy van. Or you can have a choice to get a COVID cab’.”
  • “Obviously, I was very distressed. I was crying. I was saying ‘this isn’t fair’, it was just horrible to go through.”
  • “I said ‘once these go negative, am I allowed to leave?’ And she said ‘no, you’re here for the 14 days’.”
Verdict:

A wake-up call as to how dangerous Covid policies can become.

Ryan Bourne: It’ll take decades, not years, to determine whether Brexit was a success

1 Dec

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

“What would need to happen for ‘Economists for Brexit’ to become ‘Economists Against Brexit’?” the FT’s Chris Giles asked us in July 2016.

It was a good question. And some economically-minded leavers seem near their switching threshold already. Fraser Nelson last week wrote of his disappointment that an ‘open’ leave of expansive free trade deals and deregulation isn’t being delivered by Boris Johnson.

Britain is failing the “testable thesis” of Global Britain, he argued, with the limited ambition of re-heated EU trade deals, modest trade liberalisation with allies such as Australia, and stasis on data and financial regulation leaving him asking: did I vote the wrong way?

For classical liberal Remainers, of course, a free-market Brexit was always a delusion. David Gauke argues it was an anti-Thatcherite endeavour by definition. By erecting new trade barriers with Europe and removing constraints against interventionist industrial policies, our EU exit repudiated the 1980s revolution. Those who supported Brexit for free-market reasons were misguided, as current events confirm.

Prospects for a classical liberal economic revival are undoubtedly bleak for the near future. Nevertheless, Nelson and Gauke’s conclusions seem to me startlingly premature about Brexit’s overall legacy. And the reason why relates to the answer I gave to Giles’s question five years’ ago: the substantive issue in the Brexit referendum was not “what will we do?” immediately after leaving but “who will decide what is done?”

As such, it’s a category error to think “oh, if Johnson does X or Y, then Brexit will have been a mistake/a roaring success.” Brexit is a major shift in our governing system that can only really be judged by looking at comparative outcomes between Britain and the EU over decades, not years.

Brexit, in other words, is a major constitutional change in where decisions are made and who makes them. It was not a simple policy question. Yes, these repatriated powers can be used for good or ill and how they are deployed will wax and wane depending on the zeitgeist at any given time. But Brexit’s success or failure hinges on whether, overall, the institutions of British Parliamentary democracy produce better outcomes over long periods than a Brussels bureaucracy would have.

As a major constitutional change, it’s just as erroneous to judge Brexit by a few initial trade policy decisions as it would be to judge American independence in, say, 1785, or post-communism reform in Eastern Europe in 1995, or UK EEC membership in 1978. As Johnson was a leading leaver, it’s natural to conflate his agenda with Brexit itself. But that is to mistake the current policy winds as immutable laws that will forever dominate our political economy.

Gauke’s take is particularly misguided, because it simply looks at the timeline of what has happened post-Brexit and ignores the broader context of trade policy around the world. The U.S. hasn’t Brexited, but adopted large tariff increases under President Trump anyway, which have been maintained by a Biden administration that is also beefing up “Buy American” rules.

The EU, likewise, is adopting an aggressive anti-American agenda against Big Tech, while Emmanuel Macron has been the driving force of a pan-European protectionism that uses the veil of environmental laws for keeping out poor countries’ agricultural products.

Now it would be churlish to imply that Brexit wasn’t supported by some on protectionist grounds, nor that the act of Brexit hasn’t facilitated some protectionism. But in the broader global context, the free trade rhetoric of the UK government, and Tory member support for vocal free-traders, is an anomaly. And even if the Government’s actions on trade don’t always live up to it, the long-term question is whether Britain will end up more open on trade than the relevant counterfactual where we remained within an EU, not some nirvana that doesn’t exist.

At the time of the press conference, Giles interpreted my argument on this line of reasoning as a faith-based argument for Brexit. Economists for Brexit appear to think Brexit cannot be a bad move, he concluded, because it was merely the freedom to make decisions. Even if Brexit went wrong and led to a socialist Britain, it was the politicians to blame – not Brexit itself. “From that I conclude the group doesn’t really have much of an open mind,” Giles concluded.

But that’s not what this argument says. Some leavers are no doubt dewy-eyed for national democracy in all aspects of life. Giles Fraser has said he’d support Brexit on a point of principle, whatever the consequences. I remember talking to a senior Vote Leave staffer who similarly said he’d rather a long Corbyn premiership in a sovereign Britain than a Conservative government within the EU.

Yet that’s not why free-marketeers supported Brexit, nor the best liberal case for leave. No, the best case said that, over the long-term, Brexit would lead to better outcomes for openness, economic freedom, and liberty here than with Britain in the EU precisely because of the institutional differences between the two.

It would obviously be great if we were making inroads with a free-trading agenda and meaningful regulatory reform. The key question though is whether we were more likely to get that over time in or outside of an EU that itself will be changing.

Despite recent events, I would still take that long-term Brexit bet. The British Parliamentary system, for all its faults, has been shown to error-correct substantively when it’s clear major government mistakes are made, in a way the institutional stasis of the EU often prevents. The prospects for better governance reform here are only heightened by politicians no longer being able to hide behind blaming Brussels for what are usually domestic errors.

I still think Britons’ broad regulatory instincts are more permissive than seen collectively in Brussels (as evidenced by the faster vaccine approval and the more liberal approach to genetically modified foods). So even if active deregulation proves politically infeasible, more open regulatory frameworks on new issues, such as AI, driverless cars, and future service industries can leave us better off than if ensnared in Brussels’ orbit.

What’s more, global markets are more likely to discipline small countries towards attractive tax, trade, regulatory and migration systems – changes often hard to make when coordinating with 28 states first.

Of course, I could be wrong and so in 30 years’ time writing mea culpas admitting Brexit was a fundamental error. But it seems hasty for Brexiteers to want to write-off a major constitutional change less than two years in, or indeed for Remainers to be unable to contemplate a world where the EU is not the absolute pinnacle of economic dynamism forever.

Jack Richardson: Critical minerals. We can and should offer a better model than China’s of extraction at any cost.

25 Nov

Jack Richardson is a Climate Programmes Manager at the Conservative Environment Network.

COP26 consolidated the direction of international political travel towards Net Zero. But for all the hard yards put in by the politicians and negotiators over the document, the market is miles ahead. The global clean energy transition is well underway, but with new technologies, from solar panels to electric vehicles, comes new challenges – including environmental ones.

‘Critical minerals’ (lithium, cobalt, nickel, rare earths, etc) are an essential ingredient to the modern economy. Their rise in the global economy initially came from laptops and smartphones, but the International Energy Agency projects that the Net Zero transition will mean a sixfold increase in demand.

There’s no avoiding that this presents an economic, geopolitical, and environmental challenge. There are some disingenuous arguments relating to it put forward by those who are sceptical of Net Zero because they cannot comprehend the economic or the scientific rationale behind it.

For example, some people point to the process of extracting these minerals and making lithium batteries or wind turbines, claiming clean energy technology is as bad as fossil fuel-based technologies.

But electric cars result in half the lifetime emissions of their petrol and diesel counterparts. Siemens wind turbines pay their whole production CO2 back in less than a year. Costs will come down further through the oncoming clean steel revolution. The fact is that clean energy transition is the only way to mitigate temperature rises and therefore maintain, let alone progress, our standard of living.

Some pundits worry that China is rubbing its hands with glee at the net zero transition because it has dominated many critical mineral supply chains. There is more merit to this concern: the world awoke to this particular threat when a dispute over the Senkaku Islands led China to reduce export quotas of rare earths by 40 per cent, leading to global prices rocketing.

Leaving aside the fact that this argument applies equally to the current fossil fuel based global economy, (OPEC countries provide 80 per cent of the global oil supply; Russia half of Europe’s gas, etc) the cases themselves are not like-for-like.

The world’s critical minerals are spread more evenly. China dominates the supply chain in refining and production – not reserves. It’s a result of decades of outsourcing industry to China; an issue of strategic miscalculation rather than geography.

We can diversify supply chains if we want to, and much of the world has been busy doing so since 2010. Diversification policies are now picking up pace as more countries have signed up to Net Zero. The US, for example, is now seeking to build an end-to-end lithium battery supply chain, while Japan has been working with Vietnam to develop its rare earth reserves.

Nevertheless, the risk is there, which is why William Young and I have written a report on the matter from the Council on Geostrategy. Ahead of the Critical Minerals Strategy which the Government will be publishing next year, we have identified two broad areas the strategy should focus on: resilience and growth.

Building more resilience into global supply chains comes through diversification, which in turn produces growth. Here in the UK, we can build on our progress of onshoring more Net Zero manufacturing as we have done with the new gigafactory in Sunderland, which will create thousands of jobs. Recycling and the circular economy, too, provides a chance for new industries and jobs while also reducing our supply needs from abroad.

Notwithstanding promising projects in Cornish lithium extraction, there is no avoiding the fact that we’ll continue to be importing much of the raw materials we need given the scale of demand. There are opportunities in working with other friendly countries who have massive opportunities for extraction.

Australia provides over 40 per cent of the global lithium supply; Canada has the fourth largest reserves of cobalt; Vietnam, a country the UK must forge closer ties with for other strategic reasons, has the second largest reserves of rare earths in the world.

In our report on critical minerals, we have concluded that trade and investment in diversification will bring both resilience and growth to our supply chains. There are also diplomatic and geostrategic opportunities for Global Britain to lead on developing human and environmental standards. We should seek to offer a better route to development than Beijing’s model of extraction at any cost.

We must walk a tightrope to extract these raw materials that are so vital for addressing climate change without worsening the nature and waste crises. As my colleague James Cullimore wrote on this site last year, human encroachment upon natural habitats risks zoonotic pathogens like Covid breaking loose. A mine has a pollution radius far beyond its boundaries, which risks irreversible damage to some of the Earth’s most important ecosystems. We must find methods of extracting what we need without inflicting unsustainable damage.

Nobody is saying this is going to be easy, but the solutions are there. Through our report we have provided some specific ideas to the Government, but the general direction of travel for critical minerals is clear and consistent with the rest of UK net zero policy: invest, diversify, trade, grow.

Austria’s illiberal lockdown policy should make leaders think harder about their Covid measures

15 Nov

Over the last couple of days, Austria has announced one of the most dramatic Coronavirus policies yet. Its government has decided to put two million citizens, who haven’t been fully vaccinated against the virus, into their own lockdown.

The new rule applies to everyone over the age of 12 and means they are only allowed to leave home for specific reasons, such as working and buying food. Already the police have carried out routine searches to check for people’s vaccine status and can fine them up to 500 should they not provide proof of one. The lockdown is expected to last 10 days before being reviewed.

Proponents of this policy will argue that Austria has had no choice but to introduce such a measure. It has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe and, at the same time, cases are rapidly rising. Health experts believe it won’t be long until hospitals are full. What else is the government meant to do, they will say, which has already barred unvaccinated citizens from restaurants, hairdressers and cinemas.

But this is an extreme step – which shows a troubling complacency around what powers the state should have, under the justification of Covid. If Austria or another country had announced such a policy in 2019, one imagines there’d have been unanimous bewilderment – and maybe even anger. Nowadays, however, there is a shrugging of shoulders when politicians set new rules; a feeling of “business as usual”.

Dividing the nation in two to counter a health threat is not only draconian, but contradicts the position many leaders took during the pandemic, in which susceptibility to the virus was never used as a determinant of freedoms. The Great Barrington Declaration was famously criticised, among other reasons, for advocating “Focused Protection”; the idea that society should be separated, with the high risk population shielded and the low risk released “to live their lives normally”.

This was seen as unacceptable, though. “We’re all in this together”, goes the logic. But this could similarly be extended to the unvaccinated, many of whom will be low risk and have stayed at home to protect others for long periods of time.

Unfortunately Austria’s lockdown is no anomaly in a world of ever-extreme Covid measures. Latvia, for instance, has banned lawmakers who refuse to have a jab from voting on laws and participating in debates until the middle of next year. They will also have a pay cut. Penalities, as opposed to engagement, are now seen as the primary way to deal with the vaccine hesitant.

Similarly, Queensland, in Australia, plans to bar unvaccinated people from restaurants, pubs and sports events from December 17. After the country had one of the world’s longest lockdowns, only to find – for all the misery it inflicted on its citizens – this had no significant difference as the Delta variant of Coronavirus took hold, you’d think policymakers would think twice about further curtailing people’s freedoms.

Having recently been to Berlin and Paris, which have more Covid measures than the UK, what disappoints me more than individual restrictions is how quickly people accept them. “This is the new normal”, seems to be the attitude. The public have become apathetic, with no expectation that bureaucracy and rules can be reversed.

Austria’s new policy, at least, spells out that we are on a spectrum of Covid policies – ranging from Sweden’s relatively relaxed one to house arrest. I know which end of the spectrum I’d rather be on. 

As I have written before for ConservativeHome, in years to come the UK’s own attitude to Coronavirus – which has been called callous – could age much better than people think. We may, in fact, have struck one of the best balances between the Covid “hawks” and “doves”, as they were once referred to.

Austria’s use of such an over-the-top measure – it’s worth pointing out that 65 per cent of its population is fully vaccinated, so hardly a disaster – should really be called out by the international community.

But when some leaders ask their own citizens to show a vaccine passport for some chips in a restaurant, you can see the difficulties they will have in criticising, let alone noticing, anything more drastic. The UK and Sweden, for all the accusations that they are uncaring, may find they have a better platform on which to stand.

Interview with Tobias Ellwood: Johnson lacks “serious expertise, people with political acumen, over in the Number 10 machine”

11 Nov

Boris Johnson does not have the advisers he needs at Number 10, has exposed himself to comparison with the Hungarian leader, Viktor Orban, and is “losing sight of what parliamentarians and the Conservative Party would naturally do and see as right to do”.

These are among the lessons drawn by Tobias Ellwood, Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, from last week’s debacle on Commons Standards, when Tory MPs were whipped to vote in support of a course of action which only hours later the Government abandoned.

Ellwood, who abstained in that vote, has sat for Bournemouth East since 2005. He protests at the sacking of Robert Buckland in the last Cabinet reshuffle, and laments that the Government is failing to use the talents of the 2019 intake of Conservative MPs, and indeed has no idea how to set about doing so.

As a specialist in international relations, Ellwood is deeply worried by the lack of resolve shown by the United States in Afghanistan, and by the West’s lack of strategy in the face of Russia and China, but sees opportunities for British leadership.

He warns against allowing the argument over the Northern Ireland Protocol to become a running sore which prevents the much needed defence co-operation between Britain and France:

“There’s a 1930s feel to the world. Weaker international institutions, countries weaponising, the authoritarianism on the Right, lack of western leadership.”

ConHome: “In your Sun on Sunday piece last weekend you wrote,

‘the Government thought it acceptable to overrule the punishment [of Owen Paterson] and rewrite the rules. If this happened in Poland or Hungary, we would not be surprised. But in Britain?’

“Orban is corrupting Hungarian government and society. Is that an apt comparison to make about Boris Johnson and the Government?”

Ellwood: “It’s a warning. It’s to say, ‘Is this who we want to be compared to?’ That itself can’t be a good thing. In that article I mention a couple of times ‘the mother of Parliaments’, how proud we are of the journey we’ve taken over centuries.

“But that journey of advancement has actually almost stopped. We’ve refused to look at further ways we can continue that journey on.”

ConHome: “What are the most dangerous things Number 10 is doing?”

Ellwood: “It’s losing sight of what parliamentarians and the Conservative Party would naturally do and see as right to do. Clearly there was something wrong with this decision. You yourself pointed that out.

“So our loyalty was tested, 250 of my colleagues actually held their noses and walked through those lobbies because they somehow assumed it was in the interests of the party, and clearly it wasn’t.

“So two questions there. Why, first of all, did the executive think they could do this?

“And secondly why weren’t more of my colleagues willing to stand up and say ‘No, this is actually wrong’?

“To give them their due, I can’t actually find a single Member of Parliament who did not express views to the Whips’ Office that this was completely wrong.

“So somehow something went wrong with the reporting mechanism to Number 10, to say ‘Don’t pursue this route’.”

ConHome: “This is part of a wider pattern?”

Ellwood: “That’s the concern I have. It’s part of a wider pattern, of us veering away from sound policy, of explaining to the British people what needs to happen, the difficult decisions.

“And two great examples where you could win over the public, actually I can think of three.

“Firstly to do with Trump and Afghanistan. Much easier to say ‘Bring troops home’ – that’s a vote winner – rather than explaining to the American people why keeping 2,500 troops there is actually in our longer-term interest strategically.

“Bringing troops home shows success, job done. Clearly it’s more complicated to explain to the electorate that keeping troops there, in that neck of the woods, between Russia, Iran, China, not a bad bit of real estate to keep control of, it will take time though, it’s going to take much more patience than we’re currently showing at the moment.

“That’s one example. The other one is DfID, the cuts in that. You explain to the British people, as has been done since that cut was made, that actually we lose leverage, we get replaced by Russia and China with their projects, or extremism then fills in, because of us pulling out.

“The British people would actually say, ‘Well, that’s wisely spent.’ But if you sell to the British people, ‘We’re going to take that money and we’re going to slide it to Red Wall seats,’ well which is going to win?

“Now ultimately the needle has moved on the support for DfID funding, because it’s actually part of our DNA, it’s what we do on the international stage.

“It’s a wiser, more cognitive approach to taking the electorate with you. It’s more complicated, it’s more taxing, it’s not simple, it’s not banner bumper stickers or banner headlines, but it’s what we should be doing.”

ConHome: “You also wrote that ‘at every reshuffle, MPs who have become experts in their fields are demoted or sidelined in favour of the uber-loyal.’ Who were you thinking of?”

Ellwood: “I mentioned Robert Buckland. Everybody was astonished by this decision. Everybody expected him to become potentially Home Secretary or certainly to stay in Cabinet.

“Go back to balance if you like of the spectrum within our party, he’s seen as a moderate, a sound voice, willing not just to toe the party line but occasionally to add another dimension to it.

“That’s just one of many examples. I’ll just mention another. A Cabinet member, now doing brilliantly, but it took 11 years to get there. What a lot of patience you have to go through. How many sycophantic, underarm-bowling questions do you have to ask?

“What often happens is that people lose patience with the machine itself.”

ConHome: “Are we not recruiting enough high-grade candidates? Because this will put good people off.”

Ellwood: “It will put good people off. I won’t make a judgment about not recruiting them, because I think we’ve got some really good talent on our backbenches.

“But they’re not utilised. And the difference between this new intake that’s just come in, particularly as we suddenly got all these Red Wall seats, so these are people who are running businesses, they’re doing, you know, exciting things.

“If they are not utilised, you know, they’ve come in to be part of politics, to represent their constituents, but to affect the political agenda.

“And if all they’re doing for years is just ask simplistic questions which are just handed out by the Whips’ Office, that’s not really utilising their strengths that they bring to the Chamber.

“So what I’m suggesting is this, which I think there would be a lot of appetite for. You come in and you’re invited to suggest a spectrum of interest for your career.

“It might be local government, it might be health and social services, it might be education, it might be science, it could be in my case international affairs.

“And within that spectrum there are things that you could do. Not necessarily being a minister, but certainly things which will allow you to advance and progress with an interest, and to influence policy.

“But no. There is no HR. There is no managing of anybody’s career whatsoever.

“So you end up, and this leads into the very topical debate at the moment, with people finding outside interests, and that also affects how this place looks.”

ConHome: “Were you thinking of yourself? You’re an expert in your field, you were a minister, you’re now not a minister.”

Ellwood: “No, not at all, because being on a committee is another great way in which you can affect the agenda, hold Government to account, and come up with ideas.

“And certainly being the chair of that. If you are a round peg in a round hole you are very, very lucky indeed.”

ConHome: “Can Johnson revive his Government, though. He’s just had a reshuffle. But can he revive it without sweeping changes in his team, both his team in Cabinet and in Downing Street, to take more account of what the backbenchers are now thinking and saying?”

Ellwood: “I think we do lack some serious expertise, people with political acumen, over in the Number 10 machine. It’s a tough gig, but you need to have your political antennae about what does and doesn’t work.

“Now on the actual team of the reshuffle, it’s that wider picture of making sure you take advantage of the skill sets that you actually have.”

ConHome: “Fundamentally, do you have confidence in Boris Johnson’s leadership?”

Ellwood: “I worked for Boris Johnson in the FCO, and he brings an element of energy and vibrancy to the party which I’ve not seen for a long time.

“And in today’s cut and thrust of 24-hour news that’s actually important, that he’s actually inspired a lot of people to vote Conservative, in a way that many other leaders have actually failed to do.

“But you need to be supported then by genuine strategy, when it comes to policy formation. For me there’s a gap in the market in the area I’m particularly interested in. What is Britain’s place in the world? What does global Britain mean?

“There is a leadership role, I think, that the world is calling out for.

“He needs the team around him to support the energy he provides.”

ConHome: “After David Amess was murdered, you said that MPs should pause holding face to face surgeries. Do you think that pause should now cease, and if not, when should it cease?”

Ellwood: “I look from a security and defence perspective. Clearly the situation has changed, we can reassess, and everybody has taken stock of their own situation, so it’s right that we can then downgrade or reassess the situation.”

ConHome: “You’ve been a soldier, and soldiers have to confront danger and death, but you’ve had two very personal encounters with it.

“You wrote last weekend about shaking hands with the Taliban, who were harbouring the group who killed your brother. What effect did his murder have on the way you think about security?”

Ellwood: “I don’t go past a barrier now outside the gates here without thinking about the wider security environment. I think the sadness of the 9/11 anniversary with all those documentaries we saw again – we are no better at tackling extremism, if we’re honest about it.

“We’re no better at dealing with the ideology that encourages somebody to put on a suicide vest to kill themselves, to kill westerners in the belief that they’re going to be rewarded with a place in paradise.

“And until we deal with that – and that’s not for us so much to deal with the interpretation of the Koran, that’s actually a wider theological challenge for the Islamic world to deal with too, but until we’ve done that then I’m afraid ISIS-K, Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, Al-Qaeda, they will continue to be able to recruit.”

ConHome: “You also fought to save the life of PC Palmer.”

Ellwood: “That happened in 2017, it was a reminder again. Bali was 2002, 9/11 2001, David Amess 2021. There is a correlation between all those events, which link myself and indeed other people in our community together, and shows you what an enormous challenge still exists.

“We’ve now absented ourselves from Afghanistan, handing the country back to the very insurgents that we went in to defeat. When I met the Taliban it was very, very clear why they are trying to still pursue a ruthless, quite a tough interpretation of Sharia law, because if they didn’t they would actually haemorrhage more people to ISIS-K.”

ConHome: “You’re an interventionist, both for security reasons and for moral reasons: you’re helping to spread and sustain liberal democratic values by intervening.

“Do you feel that you’re part of a beleaguered minority now – that the trend here in Britain as in America has been to withdraw, to try to cut ourselves off from the rest of the world?”

Ellwood: “We’re feeling very, very bruised. It’s been provoked by Covid as well, our retreat from global exposure, becoming more isolated, more protectionist.

“Populism also is on the rise – why should we have a responsibility for what’s going on abroad? Let’s look after ourselves. Times are tough here.

“From where I sit, we’ve got a bumpy decade ahead. There’s a 1930s feel to the world. Weaker international institutions, countries weaponising, the authoritarianism on the Right, lack of western leadership.

“On top of that you’ve got three other factors. Climate change, which is going to bring its own scale of problems. Biblical movements of people that are displaced.

“Advances in technology that then allow non-state actors to incite real harm onto communities. And the rise of extremism.

“And if Russia wants to harm Britain, it can just play with the gas taps and watch the prices ripple through and cause problems.

“Look how that one ship caught in the Suez Canal caused problems across the world. I tried to get my lawn mower repaired the other day, and they couldn’t get the parts. They said, ‘You take your choice, it’s either Covid, Brexit or it’s that Suez Canal blockage.’

“How easy it is to cause harm to economies using non-military means.

“And there’s a gap in the market for international leadership. We’ve seen America retreat slightly, give up essentially in Afghanistan. This was the biggest military alliance arguably ever formed and we were defeated by an insurgency armed with AK-47s and RPGs, and we just decided to go home.

“So where is America’s commitment? If they’re not going to step up, we had to do it a couple of times in the last century. Different circumstances, I recognise that.”

ConHome: “What about NATO?”

Ellwood: “I was in Norfolk, Virginia only two weeks ago, headquarters for NATO in the US, scratching their heads, what is their purpose?

“We don’t do out of area operations any more. So there is a purpose, you go to Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, they’ll say absolutely, NATO is critical. NATO itself will retreat to what it knows best, dealing with the old Cold War-esque challenges.

“Putin has a strategy. President Xi has a clear strategy on the international stage. The West lacks one. We don’t have a strategy. We have an attitude towards China, towards Russia, but we don’t have a strategy.

“And again, this is Britain, going back to Boris Johnson and what Britain can actually do, this is where we normally have an insight and an understanding, a means, a desire to help shape the world.”

ConHome: “Our relationship with France is currently extremely bad. We and the French are the two military powers in Europe. How bad is it and what should we do about it?”

Ellwood: “So this is a great example of us enjoying an old rivalry that goes back centuries. What we forget is that as we fail to reconcile our differences with continental Europe, our adversaries are enjoying this blue-on-blue, which is essentially what it is.

“We and the French are not working together to recognise what Russia is doing in the Arctic, what China is doing in the South China Sea, and AUKUS was a great illustration of how things could have been done better.

“Absolutely right for Australia to move from diesel electric to something better, you’re offered a Ford Focus and suddenly you see a Ferrari, which one are you going to take?

“You’re going to go for the upgrade nuclear deal, nuclear powered, so France should accept that. But if you want a strategy to deal with the South China Sea, finally standing up to what they’re doing in that neck of the woods, which is pretty concerning, then include Japan, India, include the United States, Britain and France, and that’s the quad that should be invited, allowing AUKUS to be a procurement process.”

ConHome: “If we’re going to have a better relationship with the French, is that really consistent, given the French view of themselves as one of the guardians of the integrity of the EU, with moving Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol?”

Ellwood: “You then move into a very awkward space. This was always going to be a problem. I served in Northern Ireland and it’s not until you go there that you realise how critical trade of the entire island is in keeping the peace and helping both economies.

“We need to make sure we solve this, because it’s turning into a sore, which is then used by other countries to prevent us drawing a line and finally moving forward and advancing, where we don’t then say I’m a Brexiteer or I’m this, but this is the norm.

“We are still in transition, I’m afraid. And as long as that is the case, it will poison discussion on other, bigger issues, such as our reflections on international security that we need to be having with our continental partners.”

Emily Carver: The UK’s efforts against climate change will mean nothing without the world’s biggest polluters onboard

27 Oct

Emily Carver is Media Manager at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

The pinnacle of every environmentalist’s calendar is upon us! With only four days to go until COP26, ministers are falling over themselves to talk up the conference.

Their adoption of the language of crisis is stark: Alok Sharma has said that “If we don’t act now, the end destination is climate catastrophe”; the Prime Minister has warned that we must act “before it is too late”; while Downing Street has even hosted a ‘Kids Climate Press Conference’ to help win the “fight against climate change”.

Outside of government, the refrain that we’re not going far enough continues. Activist Greta Thunberg is rallying the troops to join the climate strike in Glasgow. National treasure David Attenborough has delivered his annual warning to save the planet from extinction. And then there’s the interventions from our favourite luvvies, like Ab Fab’s Joanna Lumley, who has suggested with all seriousness that we “go back to some kind of system of rationing”.

The problem with all this, of course, is reality. A month ago, Johnson hailed COP26 as a “turning point for humanity”. Now, the chances of COP26 success are “touch and go”, as he told children that he’s “very worried” the conference may not secure the agreements needed to avert climate change.

The harsh truth is that our entire net zero strategy relies on other countries following suit. Acting alone, or even with similar-minded nations, will make little to no dent in global emissions. This is not controversial. Indeed, it was acknowledged at the time of the formation of the Climate Change Committee, the independent body that is responsible for advising government on climate policy, that the success of the UK’s decarbonisation strategy depends on high-emitting countries adopting similar carbon targets to our own – otherwise, our efforts to prevent climate change would prove utterly futile.

It’s true that more and more people are demanding for something to be done to avert the rise in global temperatures. A new poll undertaken by the UN Development Programme and the University of Oxford, found that 65 per cent of the nearly 700,000 adults surveyed across G20 countries believe climate change is a ‘global emergency’. Whether this translates to advocacy for specific or costly policies that hit people in the pocket is, of course, harder to gage.

But, while the public calls on the UK government to do more, global carbon emissions are only on their way up. According to the World Meteorological Organization, even though the pandemic saw a 5.6 per cent overall decline in emissions of carbon, the build-up of warming gases in the atmosphere rose to record levels; it is predicted that this will drive up temperatures in excess of the goals of the Paris Agreement of two per cent. The UN has also issued a warning that greenhouse gas emissions are on course to be 16 per cent higher by 2030 than they are now.

Many high-emitting nations are either avoiding COP altogether or stalling when it comes to committing to carbon targets. China has said that fossil fuels will form less than 20 per cent of its energy mix by 2060, and that it will peak coal emissions by 2025. Hard to believe, considering it continues to invest in new coal mines and, last year, built more than three times as much new coal power as the rest of the world combined.

Crucially, it has also made clear that climate policy will not come at the expense of its other priorities, including energy security and other economic interests. Then, there’s Putin, who has now committed to reaching net zero by 2060, but will not show his face at the climate summit. And at the same time, leaked documents show that countries including Saudi Arabia, Japan, Australia, and India are reportedly lobbying the UN against moving away from fossil fuels.

This is not to say that the UK and others should give up on going green. The possibilities of green technology are hugely exciting, and the benefits to our economy of pioneering new eco-friendly innovations are very real. However, it would be deluded to believe that the likes of China and India will come to the world’s rescue and slash their carbon emissions in line with our own – at least not anytime soon.

As a new paper from the Institute of Economic Affairs lays bare, the UK’s Climate Change Committee has failed to address the reality that it is highly unlikely that the UK’s leadership and influence will be enough to bring about the reductions in global emissions, and limit temperature rises, to the levels considered necessary to avert damaging climate change.

Therefore, if the world is indeed heading towards climate catastrophe, the UK desperately needs a rethink. First, we should ask why is the CCC and government prioritising mitigating climate change over climate adaptation? Why are we putting our energy security at risk, by subsidising green technologies that may or may not stand the test of time? And, crucially, why is the CCC and government not asking if the costs borne by British taxpayers, consumers and businesses have yielded proportionate benefits?

Over the next two weeks, we’ll see world leaders flexing their muscles, extolling the importance of cutting emissions to avert climate change. However, as it becomes ever more obvious that a global consensus is a pipedream, it’s clear we urgently need a review of our climate policy priorities – and an injection of realism.

Australia’s Covid elimination strategy deserved as much criticism as Sweden’s approach

19 Oct

During the course of the Coronavirus crisis, there’s been a huge amount of discussion around one country – Sweden’s – “herd immunity” strategy. Arguably less has been said, however, about Australia, despite it taking a hardline approach to managing Coronavirus – albeit in the opposite direction.

While the UK, and many other parts of the world, ended lockdown months ago, Australian cities have been some of the slowest to reopen. Melbourne, which has had the longest lockdown globally (five million people locked down for a total of 262 days out of nine months) is set to lift its restrictions. Sydney, Australia’s largest city, opened up last Monday after nearly four months in lockdown.

Why has Australia been so slow to do this? It all comes down to government and health officials deciding that an “elimination strategy” was the best way to handle the pandemic, as was the case in New Zealand. This involved shutting down the country in the case of single cases of Coronavirus, stopping international flights and installing a hotel quarantine system.

At the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis, Australia’s approach was one that received largely positive media coverage. The FT, for instance, ran a story titled “How Australia brought the coronavirus pandemic under control”. It credited all the aforementioned steps.

As time went on, though, the system was dubbed “the Fortress Australia” plan and drew criticism for its most inhumane aspects. Families were split up for years in some cases, and in the worst case scenarios unable to see each other in moments of crises. The slow speed at which the Australian government obtained vaccines also attracted criticism.

Midway through 2021, however, Australia changed course. Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister, proclaimed that it was time for citizens to “come out of the cave” and “live with the virus”. He set a target for 70 per cent of the population to be fully vaccinated, as a precedent for reopening the economy. So why the change of direction?

The first, as aforementioned – is that the vaccine has been a game changer in the fight against Coronavirus. Cities, like Sydney, that have reached the 70 per cent target can now moved forward.

The second is realism. Despite all their best efforts, Australian authorities couldn’t achieve an elimination strategy. This became especially clear when the Delta variant surged through Sydney, and then spread in Melbourne and Canberra, despite Australia’s strict approach.

Third, there’s been huge political pressure on the government to open up, as Australian citizens have grown tired of lockdown. The police have made hundreds of arrests in Sydney and Melbourne, due to protests. In September it was even reported that riot police had been deployed to control 200 people angry with Melbourne’s lockdown. The protestors threw golf balls, batteries and bottles at the authorities  – in what became the third consecutive day of demonstrations against Covid restrictions.

Australia’s approach offers big lessons to other leaders, in terms of pandemic management. It’s interesting that the UK government was criticised for not locking down soon enough. This was mainly because scientific advisers were mindful of how long people can cope with such conditions. The delayed approach was a decision that sparked accusations of the Conservatives being callous and dangerous.

Australia shows, though, what happens when lockdown goes on for long periods of time. Like Sweden, it demonstrates that there’s no perfect answer to this virus, and that politicians can be too extreme in their strategy, in either direction. Maybe the UK approach – somewhere in the middle – will age better than previously thought.