Richard North, 23/09/2020  

"Never in our history has our collective destiny and our collective health depended so completely on our individual behaviour", says Johnson, in a TV address to the nation, where he uses the word "we" no less than 71 times.

"When the sickness took hold in this country in March", the man says, "we pulled together in a spirit of national sacrifice and community. We followed the guidance to the letter. We stayed at home, protected the NHS, and saved thousands of lives".

But actually, "we" didn't, if that "we" includes Dominic Cummings. And while "we" – those of us that did – stayed at home to "protect" the NHS, the NHS hasn't protected those many thousands of cancer patients and many others who desperately need treatment.

Nor, if we are to be blunt, have "we" been well-served by a government that still, to this date, hasn't been able to organise an effective contact tracing system, which is absolutely key to the control of this disease, in the absence of an effective (or any) vaccine.

Having thus completely failed to address the issues which only government can manage, Johnson has some nerve to appeal to the collective spirit of the nation which he has served so badly, effectively to compensate for his own inadequacies – not that it's much of an "appeal" when it is backed by the force of law and a raft of draconian fines.

And behind that is the threat of calling out the Army – not to help out with the testing or even logistics – but men with guns, here on the mainland, with their weapons turned on British citizens, all so that the civilian police can impose Johnson's laws on the population, while real criminals roam free.

Interestingly enough, even some of the writers in the Fanboy Gazette haven't been too impressed – although, to be fair, Jeremy Warner has never been too impressed with the Oaf.

Warner starts his current piece with an apology for starting with a cliché: "what a complete and utter shambles", he writes. And that, of course, is what it is where, in the absence of effective government action, it is unlikely that any of the measures announced yesterday will have a significant impact on the course of the Covid epidemic in this country.

For the hospitality sector, though, the new restrictions are just enough to drive many pubs and restaurants into bankruptcy, and many other businesses may follow, while the redundancies mount as the response to the disease continues to exert its malign grip on the economy.

Warner then concluded his piece, saying that the year ahead is going to require exceptionally skilful economic management and judgement which, he observes, on the evidence of Covid, it would, perhaps, be unwise to bet on it. That being the case, we are most probably doomed.

Even if Covid on its own is not enough to do the deed, though, evidence continues to build that we are in for a torrid time, come the end of the transition period.

The latest on that front is that operators responsible for up to 70 percent of trucks travelling to EU Member States after 31 December might not be ready for new post-Brexit border controls.

This comes to us in a leaked letter from Michael Gove to trade groups, with the Cabinet Secretary warning that in a "reasonable worst-case scenario", queues of 7,000 port-bound trucks could face two-day delays in Kent.

Officials calculate that up to half of lorries crossing from Dover across the short straits – about 20,000 – might not be border-ready. We are thus told that they "expect sustained disruption to worsen over the first two weeks [of January] as freight demand builds".

Personally, I don't see this. It doesn't seem logical that operators will risk the cost and disruption of sending trucks to the continent, unless they have already assured themselves that the necessary paperwork has been completed.

The more logical outcome is that there will be a rush of traffic just before the end of the year, as traders both sides of the Channel stock up with essential goods, whence operators will stand down their trucks for the first few weeks of the New Year, until they get some sense of how the systems are running.

Gove's letter suggests that a winter spike in Covid-19 could reduce demand for freight, but there is also a possibility that problems at Dover could be intensified if border staff are stricken and are away on sick leave.

These, however, are not the only problems affecting cross-Channel traffic. According to Tim Reardon, head of Brexit planning at Dover, the government has still not released funding for vital infrastructure work at the port.

Reardon was being questioned by MPs on the Commons Treasury Committee, and complained that, with just weeks to go until the transition period ends, some essential projects had not started because government funding was not yet available.

"Government has a funding scheme which is due to open for application later this month, clearly that's cutting it quite tight for stuff to be actually delivered and in place when significant civil works are involved by early next year", Reardon said.

Not only are the problems confined to funding issues. Dover also needs a "wharf approval", a required designation for any port handling international goods, but HM Revenue & Customs has yet to provide it, Reardon adds.

He also pointed out that government on this side of the water needed to be ready with a number of things which are currently in the planning stage but are not finally delivered.

While he was in front of the Committee, MPs asked him what would happen if lorries turned up at the port when the required paperwork for them had not been completed.

Reardon's response, apparently, was quite blunt: "They need to be ready. Their ability to embark on a ferry bound for France will be conditional upon their having made the declaration that French authorities require. If they haven't made the declarations they won’t be permitted to embark on the ferry".

Lorry drivers without the correct paperwork would have to turn around and leave the port, risking huge disruption at the site. "Dover is a gateway. It is not a depot where lorries can park up while somebody waits for somebody else to do a declaration", Reardon said.

But then, there are always the 29 new lorry parks which are being built, the construction riding roughshod over local residents, who have no say in the process. Once they are completed, one assumes they will be used, which means the government is anticipating a very large number of idle trucks.

And it is not only UK operations which will be affected. The Irish are also getting worried about the vulnerability of their so-called land bridge, where trucks travel from Ireland to Great Britain and thence to the Channel ports, as the quickest way to reach the continent.

The Irish Road Haulage Association is urging its government to help set up a fast, direct daily ferry service with continental Europe for lorries to avoid post-Brexit disruption on the land bridge route, preferably into the French port of Le Havre, supported initially with subsidies.

Irish hauliers, it seems, are already suffering serious delays from migrant and security checks at Dover port, resulting in drivers taking more than three hours to travel less than a mile, causing knock-on nine-hour delays due to driving limits.

"Any interference with the passage of Irish drivers through the UK land bridge, whether by political manoeuvrings or administrative zeal, will have cataclysmic impacts on Irish trade and our people", says the IRHA. "The government needs to recognise this now and plan accordingly".

There's optimism for you: governments recognising problems, and planning in good time. But then there's the luck of the Irish in not having Johnson for a prime minister.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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