Daniel Hannan: Forget Rayner and ‘scum’. It was Reeves’ interview this week that revealed why Labour is unelectable.

29 Sep

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.

The moderates’ response was more telling than Angela Rayner’s original outburst. Calling Conservatives “scum” is hardly a new departure for Labour, as anyone who has been at either party conference will attest.

Indeed, an anthropologist coming new to the peculiar dialect of the British Left might assume that “Toriskum” was their standard word for people outside their tribe.

Rayner had simply rattled off one of those compound phrases that Lefties use: homophobic, racist, misogynist, absolute pile of banana republic Etonian piece of scum.”

OK, Etonian was a colourful addition (and a questionable one if the speaker’s intention was to suggest that you shouldn’t categorise or “other” whole groups of people) but, apart from that, it was a standard collocation: a stringing together of words that are so often placed next to one another that the speaker isn’t really thinking about their individual meanings.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell calls it duckspeak, a term of approbation in Party circles, meaning “to make articulate speech issue from the larynx without involving the higher brain centres at all.”

Much more interesting was the way in which supposedly grown-up, centrist Labour front-benchers reacted when asked about their deputy leader’s tirade. Well, they said, Angela might have used slightly OTT language, but her essential point was sound: this was indeed a hateful administration.

Typical was the interview given by Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Chancellor, on Monday’s Today Programme. Nick Robinson asked her whether that list of adjectives was entirely fair when the Tories had had two female prime ministers, when two of the four great offices of state were held by women and two by British Asians, and when the education and health secretaries were also Asian, the business secretary black and so on. Here is how she answered:

“Look at what happened during the pandemic, where if you’re from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background, you’re more likely to get the virus, more likely to die from the virus. The virus exposed some of those divisions and inequalities in society. I do understand why a lot of people feel very angry with this government. I feel angry with them as well.”

Robinson let it pass and, as far as I can tell, no one else has picked it up. But that response struck me as far more revealing than Rayner’s rant. Here was Labour’s Shadow Chancellor – in a BBC interview, not in some high-spirited speech to activists – accusing the Conservatives of causing needless deaths on grounds of race.

Whether they were doing so through neglect or out of some hidden Nazi impulse was left unsaid. But the differential in death rates was, in Reeves’ view, plainly ministers’ fault. Her suggestion that it was proper to “feel very angry with this governmentwas a straight imputation of blame.

It is true that, especially in the first wave, ethnic minorities were more vulnerable. No one knows exactly why. Epidemiologists have proposed different theories. Some link the higher fatality rate to being in more exposed occupations; others to multi-generational households; others to genetics; others to a greater incidence of pre-existing conditions; others to being a more urban population; others to vitamin D deficiency, which is more common in dark-skinned people at relatively sunless latitudes. More recently, differential rates in vaccine take-up have been identified as a factor, though that obviously didn’t apply during the first wave.

Maybe one or more of these explanations are correct; maybe it’s something else entirely. I have no idea. Neither have you. Neither has Reeves. But she thought nothing of blaming the deaths on Tory racism – an astonishingly serious charge to level if you’re not in a position to back it up.

My purpose is not to have a go at the Shadow Chancellor. In most interviews, she has struck me as pleasant, polite and personable. That’s the point. So natural is it in Labour circles to assume that people to your Right are murderous bigots that even the sensibles do it; and, when they do, no one bats an eyelid.

To see how odd it is to level such accusations, consider the related question of whether Covid is more dangerous to men or to women. Here, the differential is far greater than among ethnic groups. Although the sexes are equally likely to catch the virus, men are nearly three times more likely to need intensive treatment, and are significantly more likely to die.

Again, there are competing theories as to why, though here there is a clear front-runner, namely differences in immune response systems which make women less vulnerable to some viruses.

No one, to my knowledge, has tried to argue that the higher death-rate among people who carry a Y-chromosome is the result of sexism, and rightly so – it would be an absurd proposition.

But suppose, for the sake of argument, that the differential had been the other way around, and that women had been likelier to lose their lives. Would Labour MPs have followed the science and concluded that biological differences were beyond the power of the state, or would they have blamed Tory misogyny? I think we all know the answer.

Here, in a nutshell, is why Labour is struggling to make progress. It keeps stirring up a culture war that, in present circumstances, it can’t win. Its obsession with identity politics – organisers of Labour meetings in Brighton were declining to take questions from white men on grounds that they needed to talk less and listen more – puts it hopelessly at odds with the majority of British people.

It is possible, I suppose, that the majority will eventually shift, as woke youngsters grow up, carrying their values with them. Britain might end up like Canada (or at least English-speaking Canada) where there is genuine electoral demand for a measure of identity politics.

But that shift, if it happens, is many years away. In the meantime, the ugly combination of wokery and self-righteousness is as repulsive to the electorate as Corbynism was.

What an extraordinary state of affairs when our second party votes, by 70 per cent to 30, to condemn the defence pact with Australia and the United States as “a dangerous move that will undermine world peace”.

How shameful when the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, the man aspiring to lead the next government, supports that motion. What a bizarre situation when he cannot bring himself to say that someone with a cervix is a woman.

I feel almost sorry for Keir Starmer, caught as he is between the electorate and his aggressively pacifist, bitterly internationalist, viciously tolerant activists. Still, what a needless and self-inflicted row. Never mind the cervix, Sir Keir. Consider, more immediately, the arse, the elbow and the difference between them.

Jon Moynihan and Christopher Howarth: In an age of global insecurity, Truss’s appointment could mark a watershed in foreign policy

23 Sep

Jon Moynihan was the CEO and Chairman of PA Consulting Group, as well as a member of the board of Vote Leave. Christopher Howarth is a former accountant, lawyer and TA soldier.

The promotion of Liz Truss to Foreign Secretary has the potential to mark a watershed in British foreign policy. Creative, iconoclastic, and bullet resistant, Truss has, as Trade Secretary, made multiple trade breakthroughs by combining pragmatism and optimism.

Recognising as she does the great geopolitical changes around the world during just this past decade, she has the opportunity to make her mark on our history by formulating, with the Prime Minister, a new foreign policy approach for the UK, one that cashes the Brexit Dividend while recognising the dramatic changes in the world that have occurred over the past decade.

There has never been a golden age of global peace and prosperity, but the world has definitely worsened recently. The EU, not yet reconciled to UK departure and torn between an anxiety to contain Russia and a desire for Russia’s energy, is an always unreliable partner, with the France/AUKUS row showing that the EU and its member countries often act in opposite directions.

The botched withdrawal from Afghanistan threatens to recreate a safe haven for arms and terrorism exports. Biden’s fumbles and abandonment of Trump’s Middle East gains give Iran a renewed chance to further its nuclear and regional ambitions within the Shiite Arc and beyond, destabilising states from Yemen to Iraq and threatening Israel.

In Africa, South Africa’s continued implosion has accelerated. Further north, the arena around east Congo contains Hieronymus Bosch-like scenes of civil and interregional war, rape, slavery, and economic exploitation. Across Africa, an old tradition, the military coup, has re-emerged; both military and civil autocrats bolster themselves with Russian mercenaries.

The Indian subcontinent is now a more dangerous place because of Afghanistan’s implosion. Myanmar has taken a huge step backward. Thailand is repressive. South and Central America are the least concerning areas, but only by comparison; democratisations that followed the Falkland Islands war in the 1980s have steadily drifted leftwards, with Venezuela a stark yet apparently unheeded warning.

This brings us, finally, to the two greatest problems: Russia and China. Russia, even in its position of weakness, creates instability, threatens invasion, in its near abroad – Ukraine and Baltics in particular. In further-away countries, the Wagner Group spearheads a new colonialism.

The group of thugs and oligarchs around Putin maintain a steely extractive grip on their own country. Russia has a formidable cyber hacking arm which makes money (through ransomware) and disrupts the West.

Russia opportunistically allies itself with the far stronger China, whose intelligent and to date successful long-term policy, starting with the Belt-and-Road initiative, is quite clearly that of world domination.

In its near abroad, China extends its reach bit by bit, building roads into Pakistan and Afghanistan and railways toward Europe; building illegal villages in Bhutan and pushing Indian soldiers off Himalayan precipices. It refuses to bring North Korea to heel even as that country becomes an ever-greater nuclear and cyber menace (even as large numbers of North Koreans starve to death).

Despite the West’s long-held concern, that led to Obama’s “pivot to Asia”, China continues with its long-term maritime strategy, building piece-by-piece what is eventually likely to become the most formidable Navy in the world.

It builds ports in Sri Lanka, Djibouti, Gwadar and on; it fortifies islands and atolls across the vast expanses of China’s 9-dash-line claim; it threatens Taiwan. In the meantime, China extracts every last ounce of the West’s technological capability via legal and illegal routes; buying, spying, hacking, sending its students in waves to the west so as to learn and return.

The spectacle of China building a F-35 clone 10 years before expected was a wakeup. It highlighted that the role of science – in weapons development, cyber defence and offence, intelligence, and industry – is key, yet in the UK, as in most of the West, we are falling behind and are increasingly unable to protect even what IP we have.

These are some of the strategic challenges facing the UK. What should the UK response be?

In short, our new foreign policy doctrine should first, realise the Brexit dividend, and second, respond to the new bifurcated hegemonic structure: The US (no longer the global hegemon) with its allies, versus China and Russia with their satrapies.

The Brexit Dividend: The UK has not been a super-power for 100 years, but it is a significant power, one with a unique ability to be at the centre of alliances addressing current and future threats. Now we’re a fully sovereign power, we can forge our own policy based on our own interests, with full control of defence, trade and development.

The EU, built around a single market and customs union, always lacked a coherent foreign policy. The UK as a member was saddled with a trade policy serving the interests of others, not us, and a foreign policy unaligned even with the EU’s own trade agreements – the German or Cypriot veto, for example, preventing any serious criticism of Russia or China.

The Bifurcated Hegemony: things are going to get tougher. We will have to tighten our uses of trade and subordinate it and Aid to new geopolitical imperatives; anticorruption and cementing new treaties will have to take precedence over softer fashionable favourites.

Our new ability to focus on our own (and global) security came good in the recent AUKUS negotiations. The UK played to its strengths; a trading partner, trusted and with unique technology (more Brexit dividend: as an EU member the UK could not have discussed trade policy; would have had to support French interests; and would have been pressured to be more accommodating to China).

Promoting specific UK interests becomes central; no more need to outsource our development money (and trade deficit) to Brussels. A sovereign UK can use its aid and trade policy as twin tools to improve stability and growth in Africa, helping countries trade their way out of poverty –win-win for the UK in prosperity and influence.

In the Middle East we can work better with historic partners on security and trade. Joining CPTPP (the pacific trade partnership), and the hinted deemphasis of Canada and NZ from the 5eyes network, points to a more complex future, awash with interlocking networks and relationships of different strength.

We can also now push our objectives in global councils – protecting intellectual property, combating cyber espionage and theft, resisting authoritarian states seeking to subvert international organisations and our values. The UK now has the opportunity to work flexibly with different models to meet differing and emerging threats and opportunities. It’s an exciting new chapter in UK foreign policy.

Such an approach has the makings of a distinctly Conservative foreign policy; pragmatic but optimistic, believing in Britain, British values and a global role; with loyalty to old allies and friends and an instinctive belief that global engagement is good for both us and the world.

As Margaret Thatcher always clearly said: a decrease in British (and American) global influence would be very bad for the world. Fortunately, Truss, being a Thatcherite, recognises the opportunities the UK has. She brings to the Foreign Office unique insights into how to further UK interests and global stability. A new Johnson/Truss doctrine can put them into action.

John Baron: We need a new defence alliance with other allies as well as the United States

6 Sep

John Baron is MP for Basildon and Billericay.

The precipitous collapse of the post 9/11 Afghan state has taken the world’s chanceries by surprise, and reminded them that no-one can accurately predict the future, just as the Iranian Revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union reminded previous generations of this simple fact.

This mistaken intervention sits alongside Iraq, Libya and Syria. The lessons of this defeat though need to be particularly heeded – fine intentions and phrases in the Integrated Review are worthless if the required realpolitik and strategies are sidelined. If not, such an approach will not just prove illusory, but also dangerous.

The fundamental error in Afghanistan was to allow the initial, limited and well-resourced mission to expel al-Qaeda in 2001 to morph into the much wider intervention of nation-building. The Armed Forces deserve our fullest praise. However, as we showed in Northern Ireland, soldiers can only buy time. The politicians may now have accepted their error of trying to reshape the world in our image, but the mistakes regarding the intelligence that accompanied those interventions have yet to be heeded.

The first chapter of the Butler Review into the Iraq War contains an insightful section on the nature and limitations of intelligence and, by extension, of basing a strategy entirely on it. In particular, it highlights the differences between ‘secrets’ – which can be detected – and ‘mysteries’ – which can not. Although we knew the ‘secret’ of how much training, men and equipment the Afghan security forces had, we did not know the ‘mystery’ of how the Afghan troops would react to the advancing Taliban.

Part of the problem is the lack of intelligence on the ground. Technology and satellites, useful though they are, can only tell you so much. In recent decades the dull slog of human reporting has taken a back seat to the technological revolution, in which the US and its allies have created a formidable apparatus to intercept and analyse electronic communications. Though highly effective, it falls down when your adversary eschews modern communications – as indications suggest the Taliban may have done at key moments.

First-in-class technology has to be complemented with better political reporting and intelligence on the ground. In the Foreign Office’s internal review into why it was caught unawares by the Iranian revolution, Nicholas Browne noted that the reporting from those officials who had travelled around Iran in the months and years before the revolution had generally caught the public mood much better than the reporting from Tehran. For these reasons, much of our picture of what is going on in large parts of the world is a heady mixture of incomplete information and informed judgement, both of which can lead us down the wrong alley.

Yet since 9/11, we have placed enormous store on this mixture and have, as a result, often made substantial errors. The worst was the central premise of the Iraq War – weapons of mass destruction were never found. The Libyan intervention was in part informed by confident yet mistaken assessments that Libyans would subsequently embrace multi-party democracy. Optimistic judgements that Afghan society could be reformed wholesale in a matter of years proved well wide of the mark. Ignorance about the composition of the Syrian rebels and then naivety about our ability to arm only the ‘good’ ones contributed eventually to a complete change in approach which involved bombing the rebels.

However, Afghanistan starkly highlights other shortcomings with Britain’s overall strategy. Some of us in Parliament have long argued that the trend of reducing defence spending is severely limiting our ability to protect our interests. Judging from the mood in Parliament, it seemed a shock to many MPs that operating without the Americans was deemed impossible – even securing and running Kabul airport was beyond British capabilities.

Regardless of expensive kit and technology, there remains value in ‘boots on the ground’. No one can predict the exact nature of the next major threat, so sufficient margin is required in both the breadth and composition of our defence forces. Furthermore, a country of little use is little worth listening to. British objections to the American withdrawal timetable might have landed with more weight if we had had more to offer or at stake.

This point is not limited to Britain – all of NATO needs to reappraise its defence capabilities, and increase spending accordingly. Washington will be devoting more time and effort into countering China. Europeans should wise up to this before the Russians truly capitalise on this and start causing more problems. We must not forget the value of deterrence, which costs a tiny amount in money and resources when compared to actually having to fight a war – qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum.

Britain also needs to better defend its key defence industries. We should be extremely wary of allowing companies of great strategic value to be snapped up and hollowed out by foreign buyers. Recent legislation has given Ministers much greater scope to intervene in such scenarios but this will add up to nothing if they are not actually employed. This applies to takeovers from American companies as much as those from other countries.

On a broader level, the liberal democracies must rediscover a sense of seriousness when undertaking grand strategy. What message does our ignoble withdrawal from Afghanistan convey to our allies? The Chinese certainly strategise in terms of many decades, yet our policy can sometimes be influenced by electoral cycles. Worthwhile strategies usually require long-term commitment, as NATO has shown in Germany and the US in South Korea – if we’re not prepared to put this effort in, then we shouldn’t get in at all.

Britain also needs to reassess its relationship with key allies. Kissinger’s remark that the US doesn’t have allies, just interests, is a reminder that it is folly to rely heavily on one ally. While continuing to recognise the many merits of a strong relationship with the US, we need to reassess other allegiances. For example, in tandem with countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and France, we should consider a stronger defence and humanitarian-orientated alliance which has teeth – and which is perhaps centred on one of our two aircraft carriers. This would better guarantee the defence of our common interests.

However, perhaps the most important lessons from Afghanistan relate to leadership and mission. While accepting that war should be legitimate and the measure of last resort, sufficient force should always be deployed when finally despatching troops to theatre. Otherwise, lives will be needlessly lost and the mission compromised. Initially sending a Brigade-minus instead of a Division to Helmand was a derogation of duty.

Furthermore, the soundness of the cause should never be underestimated – did we truly believe we had a right to impose our version of democracy on Afghanistan, especially when the limited 2001 intervention achieved its goal? Joe Biden’s decision regarding this shambolic withdrawal perhaps at least acknowledges the question.

Kristy Adams: Without Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services getting more funding, we are storing up trouble

23 Jul

Kristy Adams is a company director. She is leading the Health & Happiness lessons for six to 16 year olds for the online catchup school @InvictaAcademy.

The Government invested an extra £1.4 billion in children’s mental health services from 2015-2020 after the recommendations of the Future in Mind report of 2015. CAMHS currently accounts for 0.7 per cent of NHS spending and around 6.4 per cent of mental health spending.

CAMHS is the child and adolescent mental health services. If your child is having serious mental health problems and is self-harming or suicidal, their school or GP will contact the CAMHS team for an assessment and help for your child.

In the UK we have 14 million children of a total population of just over 68 million, so children make up around 20 per cent of the population – yet CAMHS only receives 6.4 per cent of mental health spending. The numbers don’t add up. The UK is not alone in this fact.

Katie Gibbons wrote in The Times this week about research published in the Evidence-Based Mental Health journal. “The researchers accused high-income nations of failing vulnerable children and said that they could ‘afford to do better’.

“The authors analysed data from 14 studies in 11 countries – the US, Australia, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Britain, Israel, Lithuania, Norway, South Korea and Taiwan – published between 2003 and 2020.”

The studies involved 61,545 children. The authors from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver said, “Only 44.2 per cent of children with mental disorders received any services.” The findings showed “robust services are in place for child physical health problems such as cancer, diabetes and infectious diseases in most of these countries.” The research showed “an invisible crisis in children’s mental health.”

Two families I know well have teenagers who have sought help from the UK CAMHS teams in their area. The service in both cases was superb; highly-skilled experts treated both students, who have gone on not only to survive but thrive. For those that qualify for help the service is first class, but what of the children who don’t meet the threshold for treatment?

Christmas tree twinkling, December 2020, mulled wine on the hob and after such a long time in face masks, lockdowns and fear of losing jobs – the peace seemed a chink of light in my friend Josie’s house. Only for it to be shattered hours later when her 15-year-old daughter found her sister trying to kill herself.

No warning, no run up, ambulance called. The elder daughter is 18. Maisy (not her real name) was admitted to hospital. Neither of her parents was allowed to accompany her and she was released next morning at 7am. One phone call to follow up and that was the end of the mental health support. Gareth Southgate did a better job of supporting his footballers than the mental health team did with a suicidal teenager. The suicidal teenager had undiagnosed autism.

Another friend, Katie, has a 14-year-old daughter Bella, who went into a meltdown over the Government’s communication of how she would gain her GCSEs. Was she taking them? If her teachers were assessing, would she gain the grades needed to gain a college place?

Poor communication from the Government meant teachers and schools hadn’t got a clue what was happening. Bella’s anxiety and fear became more serious as she considered the move from school to a new sixth form. Bella was self harming, wasn’t sleeping and she refused to leave her room. Katie listened to her daughter and contacted school to ask for help. Bella was refused help by CAMHS; she didn’t qualify as she wasn’t trying to take her own life.

Katie took her daughter’s concerns seriously and found a private counsellor and clinician. Bella was diagnosed with autism and, through the help of professionals and her family, she is now doing well. Katie says she was able to get Bella help because they used the money that would have been spent on a holiday, but what about the families in identical circumstances who can’t afford to pay?

Prior to the pandemic I visited a primary school where I led an assembly on democracy. I met the super-efficient head teacher before my talk. Having completed hundreds of school visits over the years – as a director of a learning board trust – I can spot a well-run school at 20 paces.

This one was all singing, all dancing with a buzz of learning and a joy to be in. I asked the Head my killer question. ‘What would you like the Government to do differently to most improve the lives of your students?’ Her reply was instant: fund CAMHS properly.

The previous week one of her students had been self harming with a compass. Because the girl hadn’t broken the skin, she didn’t qualify for CAMHS help. The issue stemmed from the girl’s struggle with undiagnosed dyslexia. Her parents had to pay privately for a professional counsellor.

This began a research project for me. I found three charities that could help schools with trained children’s counsellors and funding. The charities have partnered with churches and faith groups to provide money and resources. I communicated this information to schools and political leaders at a local council.

I believe in personal responsibility, I’m a Conservative and I believe in resourcing all organisations/charities to solve problems. But here’s the crux of the matter – currently CAMHS doesn’t have enough resources to help children in crisis who are not suicidal (and it doesn’t have the money for preventative work) and that’s just not good enough.

It makes sense to invest in mental health for young people because they are valuable, our country’s future and the problems won’t go away. Indeed, the things they are struggling with will be carried into their adult life. One in three adult mental health conditions relate directly to adverse childhood experiences and the NHS will continue to need to give individuals care in adulthood, which involves cost.

If we want to save money, let’s treat the patients while they are children. It makes so much sense to invest in CAMHS so it can offer a broader service including preventative care. Part of the children’s mental health service should include identifying autism in under 18s (and as girls are often failed to be helped, targeting identifying girls.). 50 per cent of the clinical commissioning groups couldn’t give an account of the additional money the Government gave them from 2015-2020 and how it was spent. Greater accountability is required.

The Simon Fraser University in Vancouver researchers concluded governments would “need to substantially increase the spending on children’s mental health budgets.” This is particularly urgent given documented increases in children’s mental health needs since Covid-19.”

Here’s my call to action: identify dyslexia and autism more accurately and earlier to produce better outcomes, and increase the budget for CAHMS – so that services are proportional to the percentage of children in the total population. Both of these will provide a better service to our children and cost the country less money in the long term.

(Names have been changed to protect identities).

Darren Caplan: If you want a Global Britain, don’t turn off the TAP to the UK’s SME rail exporters

21 Jul

Darren Caplan is Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA). This is a sponsored post by the RIA.

Rail: an industrial sector important to UK plc

When it comes to the UK’s railways, most people think of commuter journeys to work or intercity trains to visit friends or family around the country.

Few think of it as a burgeoning industry in its own rights, supporting more than £36 billion in economic growth and 600,000 jobs, operating, maintaining, renewing, refurbishing and enhancing trains and railway infrastructure. For every £1 spent on UK rail, £2.20 is generated in the wider economy, meaning rail not just a nationally significant sector in its own right, but is also important to UK plc more widely.

During the Coronavirus pandemic, rail was essential in getting key workers and goods around the country; and at one point last year, railway work accounted for 25 per cent of all UK construction, at a time when many sectors had to virtually shut down through no fault of their own.

As the country opens up in the coming weeks and months, UK rail will be an essential part of the Government’s plans to “build back better”.

The role rail exports can play with the right support

One way rail can support economic recovery is in its role boosting international trade. It is rarely mentioned compared to other transport modes, but rail is actually an important major export, comparable to the automotive or aerospace industries, with some £800 million in goods and services sold across the world each year.

With one of the oldest, safest, and yet most intensively used railways in the Europe, UK rail professionals are highly regarded across the globe, with a varied range of products and services sold across several continents.

When it comes to the Government’s priorities for Free Trade Agreements, there is an opportunity for rail to play a much greater role. An exports survey last year, commissioned by the cross industry-government body Rail Supply Group, and conducted by the Railway Industry Association (RIA), found that priority markets for UK rail suppliers align clearly with those of the Government.

For example, Australia, the US, India and Canada, were all in the Top 10 priority exports markets where companies believe their railway sector goods or services have potential to be exported with assistance from the rail industry and Government.

The recent Australia FTA was great news for the rail sector. From steel production in the Humber to innovative manufacturing in Shoreham, from train production in Goole to project design experts in London, there are myriad rail companies already working in Australia. Many more are excited to develop greater trade with our partners “Down Under”, particularly with the opportunities provided by the reduction in tariffs.

Turning off the TAP will have a major impact on UK SME’s looking to export

Yet, as the Government negotiates FTAs with various countries, there does need to be continued support too for the rail industry. A few weeks ago, RIA, the national trade body for UK rail businesses, was told that the Department for International Trade’s (DIT) “Tradeshow Access Programme” (TAP) – which provides small grants to SMEs looking to exhibit at overseas trade fairs – was closing down, with very little notice to the rail (or any other) sector.

While small in amount, these grants are pivotal for introducing smaller businesses to the world of exports – in rail, around 194 grants were given to businesses since 2016. Each grant is valued at just £1,500 to £2,500, and they are also used to support not just rail but many other industries, like fashion and manufacturing.

Analysis shows that these small grants add real value to UK plc’s exporting efforts. According to Export Partners UK – a group of some 50 trade bodies who work to support exporters overseas – for every £1 invested by HM Treasury in the TAP scheme, at least £40 comes back to UK plc.

A cost-benefit analysis of TAP by London Economics estimated that the total benefit of the programme in 2007/2008 amounted to £57.1 million. Given the programme costs of £11.2 million, the estimated benefit-cost ratio is 5:1. What is more, TAP was rated the best DIT service in the Government’s own Client Quality Survey 2018/2019, published recently in July 2020.

For the rail sector, TAP has been invaluable. One rail exporter reported a 1,200 per cent growth in its business following an exhibition it visited after receiving a TAP grant in March 2020. Another said they had seen £50 million in revenue generated in the Middle East, with the TAP grants contributing directly. Several companies have told RIA they would not have attended certain exhibitions without the support TAP provided.

Message to the Government: please reinstate the TAP (or something like it) as soon as possible

We and our members at RIA are not sure why the TAP scheme – so small in cost but significant in terms of impact – has been curtailed. We do know, however, that this move will have a detrimental impact on the ability of UK business to deliver the Government’s vision of a “Global Britain” and to achieve the Government’s aim of boosting exports to 35 per cent of GDP. In rail, it will make the target set out in the Government’s own Rail Sector Deal – of doubling exports to £1.6 billon by 2025 – even harder to achieve.

We welcome the support the DIT has up until now given rail exports, and the Government’s pursuit of trade deals abroad. But to unleash the full potential of exporters, in rail and other industries, in the future we continue to need this small package of support from Government. The TAP scheme should be reinstated or replaced by something similar. By doing so, it will enable UK rail to truly help the Government achieve its vision of a “Global Britain”, and ultimately support even more jobs and investment as we seek to “build back better” post Coronavirus.

Daniel Hannan: Is it worth decarbonising if the rest of the world won’t follow?

21 Jul

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.

Is it worth it? The question kept nagging at me as I stood in a drizzly Derbyshire quarry, watching a miracle of British engineering. Is it worth pushing ahead with deep cuts in CO2 emissions if the rest of the world won’t follow?

The miracle in front of me was a digger powered by an internal combustion engine that ran on hydrogen – something that was, until a few months ago, thought to be impossible. Pundits and politicians like to hymn the praises of electric vehicles. But batteries have their limits. They are expensive, slow to charge and heavy. They can’t realistically power planes or trains or ships or heavy lorries – or, indeed, big diggers.

JCB (whose digger and whose quarry this was) had already produced a diesel engine that reduced air pollution by more than 99 per cent. It had come up with a small electric excavator, too. But a 20-ton machine, usually the first onto a building site, cannot run on batteries – even if it were somehow able to keep taking time off to recharge. Another solution was needed.

Full disclosure: over the years, I have occasionally worked as an adviser to JCB. For precisely that reason, I don’t normally write about the company. But, on this occasion, I reckon I’d be failing as a columnist if I didn’t tell you about the vastness of what it has just achieved.

Lord Bamford, who chairs the business, could simply have consolidated during the epidemic. He had already turned his family firm into a global leader. Another man, in his situation, might be easing his foot off the accelerator in his eighth decade.

But Bamford is, at heart, an engineer. He refines, he tinkers, he improves; he looks for what others have missed. Perhaps it is in the soil. JCB is headquartered pretty much at the epicentre of where the industrial revolution began – a revolution that was made by refiners and tinkerers and improvers, typically men who left school in their early teens, keen to get straight into the workshop.

JCB’s nearby engineering school occupies one of Arkwright’s first mills. The Bamfords themselves, if you go back far enough, were ironmongers and blacksmiths.

So when he told his engineers to find a way of creating a hydrogen engine, they swallowed their scepticism and set to work, grouping the supposedly insuperable objections under eleven headings. While the rest of the country grumbled its way through the second lockdown, they solved them one by one.

The implications are colossal. The country that invented the engine (Thomas Newcomen, who built the first practical fuel-burning engine in 1712, was another iron-monger and tinkerer) has found a way of saving the sector. Britain produces around 2.5 million internal combustion engines every year, nearly two thirds of them for export. Until a few weeks ago, the entire industry faced oblivion. Now, with a few adjustments, it can stay in business.

I tell you all this, not just to remind you that we remain a nation of innovators, but because my opening question is a serious one. If there is a global shift away from fossil fuels, then Britain is better placed than most countries to supply the new technology. It will still be more expensive than leaving things as they are, obviously. But there are ways to harness market forces, making the transition cheaper and smoother.

So let’s ask the question again. Britain, following drastic reductions, is now responsible for only one per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. If we acted in isolation, we could return to the Stone Age and it would barely make any difference.

Obviously, we won’t be acting wholly in isolation. The EU has committed itself to a measure of decarbonisation, as has Joe Biden’s America. Then again, as Donald Trump once put it, with characteristic bluntness: “Look at China, how filthy it is! Look at Russia, look at India: it’s filthy, the air is filthy!”

China is the world’s biggest polluter, responsible for 28 per cent of carbon emissions. India is third, at seven per cent. Both countries are reluctant to commit to binding targets. Is there much point in pushing ahead without them?

I suppose I ought to add, at this point, that I believe the world is heating, at least partly in response to human activity. If you disagree, fine. But there is then no point in arguing about targets and international deals. If you fundamentally don’t think there is any problem, we will just go round and round in circles.

If, on the other hand, you see a problem, the question becomes how to tackle it affordably and proportionately. Our aim should be to harness the genius of the private sector – to use inventions like that hydrogen motor – so as to minimise extra spending and extra bureaucracy.

It is fair enough to argue that someone needs to make the first move. It is fair enough, too, to point out that the whole world should not hang back simply because two or three states won’t join in. The question is one of proportionality.

It is here that my doubts arise. The commitments we have made go beyond most of our competitors’. The EU and the United States lag behind us, though not by much. Canada, Australia and Japan lag a bit further. China talks vaguely of peaking around 2030. A clutch of states – Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia – are barely bothering to go through the motions.

Leading by example is all well and good. Impoverishing yourself in order to make a point, not so much. The danger, as with all government initiatives, is that we reach a critical mass where, even if it becomes clear that the rest of the world isn’t following, a powerful lobby of rent-seekers and eco-corporatists continue to drive the policy for its own sake.

Don’t underestimate how painful the adjustment will be. “Energy is not just another sector of the economy,” the great Matt Ridley points out. “It is the thermodynamic lifeblood of prosperity.” Modern civilisation became possible when falling energy prices released human beings from back-breaking labour. In 1880 a minute’s work would buy four minutes of artificial light. In 1950 it was seven hours of light. By 2000 it was five days.

None of this is to say that we should give up. There will be more breakthroughs like the JCB engine. Batteries should, over time, become cheaper and lighter. New ways might be found to heat houses. We might even happen across a completely new, clean energy source – fission, say. The cost of climate mitigation, like the cost of adaptation, will fall as technology improves.

All I am asking for is perspective. We need constantly to weigh costs and benefits; to tackle the freeloader dilemma; to consider that innovation might lower prices, and so make calculated postponements rational; to ask whether there are other priorities (in 2020, for example, there was).

We should, in short, approach climate change in a transactional rather than a millenarian spirit, looking for maximum effectiveness rather than seeking to flaunt our piety. Conservatives, of all people, ought to understand that.

Bim Afolami: The big question facing Johnson. What does fiscal conservatism mean in an age of the big state?

12 Jul

Bim Afolami is MP for Hitchin & Harpenden.

Over the next few months, the Prime Minister and his Government will set out the key policy choices in two key areas – the spending review and planning reform. The political choices made here will tell us a great deal about the Prime Minister’s brand of conservatism, and therefore where the Party is heading.

The Spending Review that takes place this autumn will set out departmental spending for 2022/2023. The easiest option for the Prime Minister, especially bearing in mind our new political coalition (which includes many more voters of lower and middle income than under previous governments), is to plough as much cash into public services as possible to build back better after Covid.

The NHS faces a huge challenge over this winter not just with Coronavirus, but also with treatment backlogs piling up. There are challenges with education catch-up funding, as well as local government shortfalls. Any government seen to be failing on those fronts would face a major problem come election time.

However, the medium term fiscal challenge is daunting. The UK saw the fourth largest increase in government borrowing (as a percentage of GDP) among 35 advanced economies in 2020 (after Canada, Norway and Singapore). Even if our economic bounce back is stronger than originally thought (and there is evidence for this), there are real risks to the Government’s fiscal plans from the fact that the increased government spending, due to Covid, means that some departments will have less money to spend for the rest of the parliament.

Compared to the spending plans pre-pandemic, in autumn 2020 spending totals in government departments were cut by £14.5 billion a year. At the same time, overall public spending is still forecast to be higher as a share of GDP in the medium term than it was pre- pandemic.

The fundamental choice is this: is the Prime Minister going to be a Conservative who wants to continue with a high level of public spending, accepting higher borrowing and higher taxes; or will he seek to pare back the state, introduce more private sector funding where possible, and take on those who seem to want higher spending for everything at every turn?

Although the second course is one that many traditional fiscal conservatives (and the Treasury) would favour, let us not underestimate the sustained political effort that would be required to make that argument at this stage.

Not increasing government spending, or indeed at times cutting it, is not popular. During my four years in Parliament, I have seen numerous instances of Conservative governments trying to hold the line on spending and suffering real political damage (i.e: concern over school funding in 2017/18).

Yet seeking to keep higher levels of spending and borrowing not only increases the risk of inflation (which is creeping up anyway due to global macroeconomic factors), but it also cuts to the heart of why so many people vote Conservative – an understanding that we are careful stewards of the public finances and will maintain good economic conditions.

Throw in the wider commitment to increase spending in order to “level up” the North, and many traditional Conservatives will start to take flight. My view is that the only way to help square this circle is to rediscover our concern for the importance of public service reform – to work on improving the public sector so that it can produce better outcomes without huge increases in spending. Without the ability to achieve better outcomes in public services, at a time when the state is a bigger part of people’s lives than since the 1960s, we will suffer badly at the next election.

Planning reform looks no easier. Even leaving aside the Parliamentary reality that many southern MPs are yet to be persuaded of the merits of reform, the decisions made will have a huge impact on the perception of who this Conservative Party is for. Who are our people?

In many areas of the Home Counties, where the increases in housebuilding will be the most politically salient, many traditional Conservatives regard significant housebuilding nearby as an attack on their sense of place and home. Even a cursory look at the results in the last local elections and the Chesham and Amersham by-election makes it clear that housing has the power to be electorally explosive.

Ultimately, there will need to be some more house-building in the South East (there already is!) and across the country. There may be a short term political price to pay for doing so in certain areas – that is the nature of being in government and having to take tough decisions.

But how do we limit the political damage and get the houses we need? We must ensure that development happens in the right way: protecting and enhancing our environment, sympathetically extending communities or creating new ones, and with local support. Neighbourhood Plans are a good feature of our current planning system which enable residents to set out what developments in their area should look like. We must ensure that these form a key part of the new process so that residents have more control over their local environments.

Modern conservatism will always treasure our past and champion the future. We have no future as a party – or indeed, as a property-owning democracy – if younger people cannot get on the housing ladder. But even if we achieve a large increase in the number of new homes, the evidence shows that it won’t put more than a small dent into affordability. As George Osborne’s former economic adviser Rupert Harrison said last week: “a decade of effort might knock two or three per cent off prices at best, just a few months of price growth at current rates. The reality is that high house prices — and indeed high prices for all assets — are a global phenomenon, and for almost 40 years there have been much more powerful forces at work: a huge fall in the interest rates set in financial markets”.

To improve home ownership amongst the young, we need to do more than just build more houses. We also need to change the mortgage market to allow for longer term (over 20 or 25 years) fixed rate mortgages which help solve the affordability problem for young people without much of a deposit. If we can do this and genuinely show younger people we are governing to help them get on in life, this will be recognised by them and (hopefully) by their parents and grandparents. If we allow the broken system to continue as it currently stands, we many retain the support of the few but be increasingly resented by the many.

These choices are not just normal mid-term difficulties. How the Prime Minister approaches them will determine the shape of how the modern Conservative Party is perceived. What does fiscal conservatism mean in an age of the big state? How will we push all levers to ensure that younger generations will be able to afford a decent home of their own whilst retaining our existing support?

Benedict Rogers: What Ministers should do next to help Hong Kongers

1 Jul

Benedict Rogers is co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, an advisor to the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign, and Senior Analyst for East Asia to the international human organisation CSW.

A year ago today, Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and Priti Patel did something genuinely courageous, generous and right.

Within hours of the imposition of a draconian National Security Law on Hong Kong that destroyed the city’s promised freedoms and autonomy, the United Kingdom announced a scheme that would enable five million Hong Kongers to come here on a “pathway to citizenship”. It provided a lifeline to many who may need to flee Hong Kong as it is rapidly transformed from one of Asia’s most open cities into a place of Orwellian fear and repression.

The Government deserves credit for this, and the Home Secretary especially. For a government that delivered Brexit on a theme of limiting immigration to throw open the doors to a few million people in their hour of need is remarkable.

Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary declared that the National Security Law, imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese Communist Party regime with no consultation whatsoever, represents a “clear and serious breach” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the international treaty that was supposed to protect Hong Kong’s freedoms for at least fifty years from the handover.

Over the past year, the Foreign Secretary has declared further breaches and says Beijing is in a “state of ongoing non-compliance” with the treaty. A diplomatic understatement.

We have seen Hong Kong’s most respected, moderate, internationally-renowned pro-democracy leaders prosecuted and jailed, simply for expressing their desire for freedom.

The pro-democracy camp has been expelled from the legislature, politicians and activists charged and jailed for holding a primary election and the electoral law changed to exclude pro-democracy candidates.

And last week, in the latest hammer-blow, Hong Kong’s only remaining Chinese language, mass circulation pro-democracy daily newspaper, Apple Daily, was strangled to death, its editor and senior executives arrested and charged with “collusion” with foreigners, its newsroom raided by 500 police officers, its bank accounts frozen and its existence extinguished. Its founder, Jimmy Lai, languishes in jail awaiting trial, and could face life imprisonment.

As we mark the 24th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong – as well as the 100th birthday of the Chinese Communist Party – there is nothing to celebrate. Today is, for freedom-loving people everywhere, a day of mourning. The only thing we can be grateful for is that, at the eleventh hour, Britain did right by Hong Kong.

And thousands of Hong Kongers are taking up the offer. In the first two months after the scheme opened, 34,300 applications were made. From July 2020 until March this year, 292,000 British National Overseas (BNO) passports were issued. The Home Office anticipates between 258,000-322,400 Hong Kongers arriving here over the next five years and up to 150,000 this year alone.

So the Government’s job is not done. Ensuring a proper welcome and integration programme to help Hong Kongers settle here successfully is vital. Ministers are seized of this, with Lord Greenhalgh leading as co-ordinating minister, ensuring a cross-Whitehall approach. In April, the Government announced a £43 million support package and 12 ‘Welcome hubs’ across the country, helping Hong Kongers access housing, employment and educational support. Ministers also dropped their condition of no recourse to public funds, making assistance available for anyone in danger of destitution.

No one expects government to do this alone. Civil society is stepping up, a ‘Welcoming Committee’ has been established and government is eager to listen and collaborate.

All good. But more to do.

Hong Kongers moving here are still subject to international student fees for higher education, which for Russell Group universities average at £20,000. Given that BNO families will already have had to meet visa fees, an immigration health surcharge and provide evidence of ability to support themselves for six months, and that residents from almost all British Overseas Territories are eligible for ‘home fees’, this should be addressed. Hong Kong students who intend to make their life here and contribute to our economy and society should be treated as ‘home’ students.

BNOs leaving Hong Kong may be penalised from doing so by financial institutions. Hong Kong’s Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) is preventing BNOs from withdrawing pension funds, depriving people of life savings. One couple saved around £36,800 in their MPF over twenty years, and yet despite providing proof of their relocation, they have been unable to withdraw their funds. The two biggest MPF providers are HSBC, headquartered in London, and Manulife, headquartered in Canada.

Other financial pressure is also being applied. HSBC froze the bank accounts of a former legislator Ted Hui, now in Australia, and warned that online and mobile banking services may not be authorized for Hong Kongers outside Hong Kong. The UK must put pressure on international financial institutions to cease complicity with the regime’s coercion.

English language teaching will be needed for some, mental health and trauma counselling for others and prevention of both racially-motivated hate crime in communities and politically-motivated intimidation by pro-Beijing elements should be a priority. It will also be essential to ensure that pro-Beijing entities here, who support Beijing’s repression of Hong Kong, do not benefit from public funding.

The biggest single issue yet to be addressed is eligibility. Those born after 1997 who are not dependents of BNO holders don’t qualify. And that leaves many of the most politically active, vulnerable young people in danger. If they stay in Hong Kong they face jail or a bleak future. If they come here, currently their options are limited. Asylum is a bleak route.

Better would be to expand study or work visas that could lead to settlement. Canada and Australia have offered options, and there are efforts in the United States and the European Union to do likewise. If Britain shares the load with other democracies, the numbers involved are small but the lives and futures at stake incalculable. Yesterday, Hong Kong Watch released a briefing, with recommendations, on all these and other challenges. Implemented well, this scheme can be a great success, giving Hong Kongers a lifeline and injecting into the UK a new, dynamic, entrepreneurial, creative, exciting spirit which they embody. But failure to properly welcome and integrate could be costly.

Finally, let us not think the BNO policy is the only step we need to take. It is not a solution. It offers a lifeline, but it does nothing to change the dire situation on the ground.

So on the Chinese Communist Party’s 100th birthday, if we’re really serious about defending our values, we need to give Beijing a special present. We must make the regime pay for its crimes. We need sanctions. To allow the regime to get away with tearing up an international treaty with impunity will only embolden them to continue assaulting freedom. Taiwan is in its sights, and our own freedoms are too. So as well as welcoming Hong Kongers, we must hold the regime that drove them here to account.

Frank Zilberkweit: Say no to the wardrobe police – the damaging impact of banning natural fur

9 Jun

Frank Zilberkweit is Chairman of the British Fur Trade Association.

On May 31, a bank holiday, the Government slipped out a four week call for evidence on the UK fur sector that could be the precursor to restrictions or a complete ban. We welcome this opportunity to contribute, and we will set out in detail the exacting animal welfare standards and extensive laws and regulations that govern the sector, and why fur remains popular – with sales increasing by 200 per cent in the last decade. We will also set out the many damaging consequences that implementing a ban on fur would have including why it would do nothing to improve animal welfare.

Let’s be clear, if the Government decides to introduce a ban on the sale or wearing of natural fur it would effectively be telling us what we could and could not wear, and what we should have in our wardrobes. We would have the unpalatable prospect of millions of people being criminalised for choosing to buy a particular natural material. Such an intrusion would be an unprecedented step for a government to take and would be a significant curtailment of consumer choice and individual rights. Unsurprisingly, with a third of Brits owning an item of fur, there is no majority for a ban on humanely produced fur in the UK and we strongly believe that informed individuals should be free to make up their own minds.

It is also clear that restrictions on fur would be the thin end of the wedge and would simply open the door for bans on other animal products including wool, leather and silk as well as modern farming and field sports. Animal rights activists, who have long campaigned for a UK fur ban and have done much to use their links with unelected individuals close to the Prime Minister to push this call for evidence, want to see an end to the use of all animal products or materials including in food consumption. Their agenda is clear, but their narrow views do not represent the silent majority and nor do they care about the consequences.

There are exacting standards and laws in place governing the fur sector, banning natural fur would damage, not improve, animal welfare and would be a purely symbolic move pushed by animal rights activists. George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, confirmed as much in 2018 when he said in Parliament “It is not possible to make a difference just through the restriction on trade to the UK, because we represent a tiny portion, about 0.25 percent, of the entire global market. We would probably be more effective agitating for change through international forums such as the World Organisation for Animal Health, CITES and others.”

A ban could not work and would be unenforceable placing huge burdens on law enforcement to try to stop imports at the borders and then police it within the country. It would simply push sales online, untaxed and unregulated and to those who care little about animal welfare. It would also impact on the indigenous groups, who still depend on fur for their survival in places like Greenland and Canada, and on religious groups who wear items of fur.

It would lead to thousands of job losses and closed businesses in the UK. It would also damage London as a global fashion hub with many designers and brands using fur and it would disrupt trade relations with some our closest allies who are major fur producing and manufacturing countries including Canada, the United States and many EU states. What does it say about Brexit Britain and its commitment to free trade if one of the first things it does is to ban a highly regulated, international trade? Hardly a “Brexit Bonus”, as some have claimed.

A ban could not operate in Northern Ireland, that remains part of the EU Customs Union, and it is noticeable that the call for evidence only covers Great Britain. We would therefore have the prospect of one part of the UK being free to trade and sell fur including exporting its goods to Great Britain thanks to the Internal Markets Act, and commitments of ministers in guaranteeing the free movement of trade between the four UK nations, again, making a mockery of any ban.

Fur is a natural, sustainable material, far better for the environment than oil based synthetic fast fashions. It would be entirely illogical and counter productive for the Government to move forward with restrictions on a natural material that would lead to an increase in the consumption of synthetic materials in the same year as it is hosting COP26. It sends out entirely the wrong message for a government that wants to be seen as global leader in tackling climate change and improving the environment.

Banning natural fur is a retrograde, damaging step and no sensible government, particularly given the scale of other priorities including the pandemic, would consider implementing such a draconian and pointless policy. Increasingly, it is clear that one part of government, Defra, with its unelected supporters appears to be operating in isolation to the rest of Whitehall. I would therefore urge everyone to get involved in the call for evidence and take the opportunity to say No to a Fur Ban: Take Part: Government Call for Evidence – British Fur Trade Association.

There are vaccine shortages worldwide. Is it really more important to inoculate children here than adults abroad?

7 Jun

In the last few days, the UK regulator has approved use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children who are aged 12-15. The MHRA said that after a “rigorous review”, it found that the benefits outweighed any risks. It has also been approved for the same age group in the US, Canada and the EU – with the Moderna jab approved in the US, and Germany planning to start vaccinating children over 12 from today.

One newspaper has reported that, in the UK, vaccines could be administered to children from as early as August as part of plans being drawn up in Whitehall. Currently ministers are waiting on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which will make the final decision on whether inoculations become routine for the aforementioned age group.

Even before the regulatory approval came through, the subject of whether to vaccinate children has been incredibly controversial. Twitter isn’t always the best metric for understanding public sentiment, but you only had to look at the reaction to Jeremy Hunt’s recent post – a video of himself asking whether it was time to vaccinate children – and Lisa Nandy’s similar call to see how many are opposed to the idea.

The main concern that people, parents or otherwise, have is that, in general, children’s risk from the vaccine could outweigh that of getting Coronavirus, which is extremely low. Although scientists did not find any major side effects in vaccine trials, these involved 2,000 children, whereas very rare side effects – by their nature – tend to be found when a vaccine gets rolled out to tens of thousands more people.

Worries about the risk ratio are not a “fringe” or anti-vax view, but shared among medical practitioners. For instance, Professor Russell Viner, former President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, has said: “Having a license doesn’t mean the vaccine should be used for all teenagers… Decisions about wider use in teenagers need to carefully balance the benefits and risks and the ethical issues involved in vaccinating children. The early reports about myocarditis in young men need to be properly investigated and may not be related to the Pfizer vaccine, however they provide a warning that we should not rush into these decisions.”

Another reason we have seen some strong reactions may simply be from people who didn’t realise that vaccinating children was an option. Even Kate Bingham, the Government’s vaccine tsar, warned in October 2020: “People keep talking about ‘time to vaccinate the whole population’, but that is misguided… There’s going to be no vaccination of people under 18. It’s an adult-only vaccine, for people over 50, focusing on health workers and care home workers and the vulnerable”.  So it’s not surprising that many were not prepared for the idea.

There will be lots of reasons the Government is thinking about vaccines for children. For instance, although rare, some children have suffered from long Covid – there’s no doubt that high risk children need vaccinations – and there have additionally outbreaks among children in certain areas (Blackburn with Darwen).

The JCVI will also consider what’s best for wider society in its decision (for instance, whether vaccinating children will bring transmission rates to a more manageable level). On this note, it’s interesting that Israel stopped short of vaccinating its young, as it inoculated so many adults that it eliminated cases in children. Maybe in August we will face a similar situation.

Another big reason the Government will be thinking about vaccinating children is because of the educational disruption that Covid has caused. Throughout the pandemic, unions have been perhaps the most demanding group when it comes to calling for Covid measures – and are now calling for vaccinations for pupils “as matter of priority“. Saying that, they might now find themselves up against an even louder group: parents! As plenty don’t want their kids to have the jab.

One of the most important arguments to consider in this debate – which experts are increasingly pointing out – is that there are parts of the world suffering far more than the UK, the US or otherwise with their Covid rates. Is it moral that Germany is getting on with inoculating children when there are countries with high risk populations that aren’t vaccinated? It doesn’t seem right.

Dr Kate O’Brien, the World Health Organisation’s top vaccine expert, has warned that immunising children against Covid is not a high priority, and reminded politicians that there is insufficient vaccine supply for the whole world. “Immunisation of children in order to send them back to school is not the predominant requirement for them to go back to school safely,” were her words. “They can go back to school safely if what we’re doing is immunising those who are around them who are at risk.” Somehow, with the panic about variants and June 21, we seem to have forgotten that.