Another day, two more U-turns. Michael Gove’s libertarian assertion a couple of days ago that he wouldn’t favour making face-coverings compulsory for people entering shops because it is ‘common courtesy’, and the great British public can implicitly be relied to exercise that courtesy, has been overruled. Whoever makes this government’s decisions in the shadowy depths of 10 Downing Street – usually Dominic Cummings – appears to have rather less confidence in our collective courtesy, and face coverings are now, very belatedly, going to be compulsory for anyone visiting shops after all. But, fair play, it is important to be even-handed, and common courtesy needs to be exercised towards the virus as well: it needs to be given a chance to infect people for at least one more week, so face coverings don’t need be worn in shops until 24th July. This will give the government time to ask the police, who are going to have to work out how to enforce the law, whether they think making it compulsory and making people who don’t wear face coverings eligible for £100 fines was a good idea in the first place. They don’t. But we shouldn’t bank on there not being another rapid U-turn, as the Tory backwoodsmen don’t like the idea of having to wear face coverings any more than Michael Gove does. Desmond Swayne, of deepest and darkest backwoods fame, declared in parliament yesterday that the new regulation was a ‘monstrous imposition’ that would deter him from going shopping. So goodbye to the V-shaped recovery then.
The other U-turn, much more dramatic and with the potential for vastly more serious long-term consequences, sees our government performing an abrupt about-turn and reneging on its previous commitment to allow the Chinese private company Huawei to be involved in the 35% of the roll-out of the UK’s 5G network that isn’t security sensitive. Not only is any future involvement arbitrarily ruled out, but all Huawei- manufactured components of the existing 3G and 4G networks need to be stripped out by 2027. Now there’s common courtesy for you. It isn’t as if Johnson and company have suddenly unearthed the fact that Huawei is a Chinese company and that China has a communist government with some very unsavoury propensities. Nor have they suddenly discovered that Huawei poses a more serious security threat than they had realised in January when they made their original commitment. It is unlikely that even Dominic Cummings, radical thinker that he is, has been influenced by the deranged conspiracy theorists who think that 5G masts are responsible for Covid-19. A conservative estimate suggests that the sudden volte-face will involve picking another £2 billion from the magic-money tree, and up to two years delay in the roll-out of 5G. Any pretence that this U-turn has anything to do with China’s new stance on Hong Kong or its treatment of the Uighur Muslims would have to be based on the assumption that Tories have even the first remotest interest in Human Rights which (with a few honourable minority exceptions) is entirely belied by, among other things, the Windrush scandal, and the government’s persistence in maintaining Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ with its appalling attitude towards immigrants. The Huawei U-turn can be laid entirely at the door of Johnson and cronies’ cringing subservience to the erratic whims of Donald Trump, so desperate are they to feast on the crumbs under his trade table. Trump, needless to say, has no qualms about making it embarrassingly clear what he thinks of them by boasting to the world about having persuaded them to do turn their backs on their commitments to Huawei.
The English Nationalists have taken control of the ship – otherwise known as hi-jacking – that had been comfortably and productively docked in a European harbour for the better part of 50 years. They didn’t like having to pay harbour fees and there were too many pesky foreigners around for their liking – foreigners who for the most part couldn’t even speak proper English. So, after spending three years blundering around in the engine-room before finally managing to get the engines started, they have set sail and headed out into the unforgiving ocean towards the Americas, following in the wakes of heroes like Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh, their eyes alight with the prospect of fresh riches and empire. Regrettably, unlike those plundering knights of the realm, they haven’t the first idea about how to sail a ship, nor have they the faintest notion about where they are going or how to navigate the way to get there. So they go round and round in circles, not catching the faintest stirring of a trade wind but caught in a trade war between the world’s two major economic powers, China and the USA. They had hoped that China would be a source of riches, at it used to be, but the trade war, over which they have no control, has crushed all hope of that. They are tempted to seek safe harbour on the other side of the Atlantic to replenish their supplies, of chicken in particular, but that would make it a bit too embarrassingly obvious that they are, in fact, handing control to the mad Donald Trump. So much for taking back control.