Confronting the challenges of 2021

First. may I wish your readers best wishes for 2021. This new year will be critical for us all; we must move forward after the difficulties of 2020. There are three immediate challenges facing us; the health crisis, the new relationship with Europe and our serious UK leadership vacuum.

It now appears probable that we will overcome the coronavirus pandemic. Despite recent setbacks, the arrival of the Covid-19 vaccines, together with the outstanding work of the NHS, gives cause for optimism. We applaud all who have worked so hard professionally or as volunteers, supporting all those affected.

The effects of the final arrangements to leave the EU will be deeply damaging. Liberal Democrats believe the decision to pull out of Europe was a historic national error. Many seem to have forgotten that the initiative to create a more united Europe stemmed from determination to end centuries of hostility between European states. The key task remains; to find the best way now to work amicably and closely with the EU.

In many aspects this Brexit deal makes us poorer. There is more red tape when we were promised less. We were promised full access to the single market, which we will not have, especially for our biggest export market of financial services. London is likely to lose its pre-eminent financial position in Europe. We were promised certainty for business, but the whole deal is under review every 5 years.

We also face the cultural loss of Erasmus student exchanges, less convenient travel in Europe, impediments to businesses attracting much-needed overseas workers, loss of mutual recognition of qualifications. The damage to our shared security against terrorism and criminality gives great concern. 

Management of these vital issues by government has been lamentable. Decisions about managing the pandemic have been late or mistaken, from supply of PPE equipment to the hopeless planning for tracking and tracing. We were promised parliamentary sovereignty to deal with the Brexit issue but the whole 1200+ page document was pushed through parliament in one day without providing MPs time to read it. I can find no evidence of careful attention to detail or of systematic strategic planning by this Johnson government. Their search for ‘sovereignty’ simply entails loss of influence, and may ultimately tear apart the UK. 

The key failure in 2020 has been that of effective leadership. Our leaders now confront equally demanding challenges of business recession, massive unemployment, and the approaching likelihood of catastrophic climate change. Is this inept government capable of tackling these challenges? Their track record suggests not.

Roger Putnam

President, West Cumbria Liberal Democrats

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