Britain is gearing up to break international law in “a very limited and specific way,” according to Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary.
Last October, Boris Johnson’s government negotiated a withdrawal agreement with the European Union that would avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, something everyone with half a brain and no political advisors with the initials D.C. considers important because a hard border threatens to reignite the Troubles in Northern Ireland. We’ll skip the background there because it’s long and complicated. If you’re not up on it, just nod sagely and pretend you know what I’m talking about.
It was a patched-together agreement and even at the time it looked unworkable because if Britain left the EU there had to be a hard border somewhere, and if it wasn’t going to be between Ireland and Northern Ireland, then it was going to be in the middle of the Irish Sea, pushing Northern Ireland away from the rest of the UK.
Wave bye-bye to the nice island, Boris.
Look! It’s waving back.
Or maybe that’s Northern Ireland waving hello to the Irish Republic. Either way, aren’t the Irish friendly?
Anyway, it was all going to be okay, we were told, because they–they being some unnamed genius in a governmental office somewhere, whose initials were probably D.C.–would figure out a way to make it work.
So what have they figured out? Well, um, nothing. Which is why we’re gearing up for that limited and specific little law-break, Your Honor. See, we were painting the floor. And then we realized we were in a corner and surrounded by wet paint. And we really needed a beer, and on top of that, we had to pee.
Sorry, did I just say pee? We needed to visit the loo and drive to Barnard Castle to test our eyesight. But you understand the difficulty, right?
Sorry: British political in joke implanted there. I couldn’t help myself. It all has to do with a prime ministerial advisor who doesn’t believe laws apply to him.
The former prime minister Theresa May asked how the government planned to “reassure future international partners that the UK can be trusted to abide by the legal obligations of the agreement.” And you know what, no one answered her. Because she’s the former prime minister, not the current one.
Somewhat more noticeably, the most senior legal civil servant resigned over it, and that seems to be creating a few shock waves. He’d advised ministers–or so Westminster gossip (which I get by way of the newspapers) holds–that the changes would be illegal, and since civil servants are required to stay within the law, he quit.
That raises the question of whether the justice secretary and attorney general, who take oaths to uphold the rule of law, will find themselves in deep shit at some point over this.
The government’s said to have asked for independent legal advice and when they didn’t like what the advice advised are said to have ignored it.
Senior Tories are urging the government to perform yet another U-turn–a maneuver the government does well. The question is, how many senior Tories are we talking about, and how many junior ones? The Tories have a majority of 80, so it’ll take more than a handful to have an impact.
Please ensure that your seat belts are securely fastened. We’re headed for turbulence.
Britain’s had a spike in Covid cases and is imposing new restrictions to try to stop it. Or to slow it down. Or to be seen to be doing something while still trying to get people who’ve been working at home back into the office so they can support the economy by buying sandwiches and expensive coffees and those sparkly notebooks that eight-year-olds like. Without those sales, the economy’s sinking.
Whatever. We now have new restrictions.
In England, starting on Monday, social gatherings of more than six people or from more than two households will be illegal. Unless they’re weddings or funerals or organized team sports. Or schools or work, which aren’t exactly social but the health secretary Matt Hancock mentioned them anyway because he was trying to make the point that the ”the rule is really simple.”
“What,” a friend asked me as I was explaining how simple this is, “about my brother, who has six kids?”
“Well,” I said, “he should’ve thought of that before he had them.”
And just so I’d sound all British about this, I added, “Shouldn’t he?”
As it turns out, it really is simple. It’s either six people from any number of households (two households, six households, thousands of households if you can make the numbers work) or any number of people from any two households. Plus either a dessert or an appetizer.
Fizzy drinks and alcohol cost extra. And my friend’s brother can keep all his kids.
Of course, the rules are different if you’re in one of the cities and towns that have local lockdowns or the restrictions that are an attempt to avoid a full-out lockdown. No two local rules seem to be the same. In some, restrictions involve venues–however the hell they’re defining that–having to close between 10 pm and 5 am, which is when the virus is known to come out and play. In others, you can’t have people over, indoors or in your garden, which in American is called a yard, unless you’ve formed a support bubble, which is created when a household with one adult joins another household and when they add soap to a dishpan of water (glycerine helps) and have a bubble pipe or wand.
It’s best to do this outdoors, because it’s messy.
With the emphasis on gardens, it sounds like you could get together if you put a fence between one household and the other as long as no more than six people are inside the fence.
Anyway, it’s really very simple.
I’ve always considered the mess an art form. I should idolize Hancock, but somehow he just doesn’t do it for me.
All of that, of course, only applies to England. What about in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland (if it hasn’t floated out of sight yet)?
It’s simple, so I’ll quote the BBC to be sure I get it right:
- In Scotland, up to 15 people from five different households can meet outdoors.
- In Wales, up to 30 people are allowed to see each other outdoors.
- In Northern Ireland, the maximum number of people who can meet outdoors has been reduced from 30 to 15.
However, if we’re talking about being indoors, either at your place or in a pub, the rules alllow:
- In Scotland, up to eight people from three different households
- In Northern Ireland, up to six people from two households
- In Wales, up to four households can form an “extended household.”
I don’t know how it can get any clearer than that. But keep in mind that the distance you’re supposed to keep from other people will vary depending on whether you’re in England, Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland. Because the virus behaves differently depending on the accent it hears.
I can’t think why I’m so tired.
Last week sometime, I told you my tale about trying to get one of Britain’s world-beating Covid tests and being advised to go from Cornwall to Wales. I’m used to being told where to go, and it doesn’t usually involve anyplace as nice as Wales, so I didn’t get my feelings hurt.
But now it turns out that I’m the reasons Britain is short of Covid testing materials, and that does hurt my feelings.
Matt Hancock, our secretary of state for health, social care, and public excuses, tells us the shortage of Covid tests is the fault of people getting tested when they don’t need a test. A full 25% of the people asking for tests turn out to be this sort of me-too-ers. They don’t have the symptoms, so what are they up to?
We’ll get to that, but first let’s talk about symptoms. The government web site gives you a choice of three, but if you bump around the internet, limiting yourself to entirely responsible sites, you’ll find that the virus is more generous than that. You can have five symptoms if you want them. You can probably have more than that, but I’m prone to dizziness when I work with higher numbers so I stopped there.
But even if the government could count to five, it shouldn’t matter whether you have symptoms. One of the things that makes the virus so damn hard to stamp out is that asymptomatic people can and do transmit it. Any chance of controlling it rests on (a) a highly effective vaccine, (b) magic, or (c) testing–lots and lots of testing, including testing people who don’t have any symptoms so they can find out if they’re carrying it and then isolate themselves and not pass it on.
Let’s pause here for some advice: If you have an off-brand symptom and want to get tested, you should lie. Don’t worry. This is a government that understands lying.
Trials for the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine hit Pause when a participant was hospitalized with what may be a serious reaction to the vaccine and may be something unrelated. You know, the kind of thing that happens when a satellite flies over your house just as you’re chewing bubble gum and the cat’s litter tray needs cleaning and you’ve got Billie Holiday playing on whatever on earth it is you use to play recorded music these days. And–I almost forgot–you breathe in a virus that isn’t the one we’re concerned about but does still make you very, very sick.
These things do happen and you can’t know in advance what effect they’ll have. Researchers are trying (frantically, I’d think, but we all know I’m not there, so let’s not take me too seriously) to figure out if the participant’s illness is related to the vaccine or not. It may not be, but this is why political pressure to shorten the testing process is really very stupid.