It has certainly been a ‘manic Monday’ in the world of UK politics as new Covid-19 restrictions limiting social gatherings to six people enter force, while Parliament gears up for a key House of Commons debate on the controversial Internal Markets Bill.
Reaction to the new ‘rule of six’ has been mixed, while the Internal Markets Bill has also been subject to fierce criticism in that although it will ensure unfettered access for goods from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK in the event that a trade deal cannot be agreed with the EU, it also breaks international law by overriding elements of the legally binding Withdrawal Agreement struck with the bloc last year.
The double-pronged challenge of Covid-19 and securing a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU make it difficult to predict what will happen next, and one business leader has described 2020 as a watershed moment which will bring about inevitable change not just in the UK political landscape, but also to humanity as a whole.
Leadership in Focus
Making an appearance on the Leaders Council podcast, Dr. Andrew Parsons, founder and director of Reciprocal Minds, spoke openly about his views on the ongoing Covid-19 situation and how his company - which specialises in personal and professional development - has had to adapt.
Dr. Parsons said: “We have had to completely change how we operate over the Covid-19 pandemic and there’s good and bad in that. We have continued to trade but moved everything onto a virtual platform at the moment and we’re thinking about how to expand that and make the best long-term use of a short-term solution.”
Dr. Parsons added that the short-term solutions that companies and organisations have found throughout the pandemic to date are likely to become the longer-term solutions of the future, explaining that he did not see any swift return to the pre-Covid normal.
“I do see industry drastically changing in the post-Covid reality. The challenges we face in society make it difficult to predict what will happen next. I think as humans, we latch onto the idea that things will return to normal, but I feel it will be different for much time to come.”
While Dr. Parsons described the pandemic and the year 2020 as a turning point for humanity, he stressed that there was still a great deal of uncertainty in the direction the world will ultimately go in as a result, and that it was the role of leaders to ensure that humans embark on a route that will bring about the most positive outcome for the future.
He said: “My feeling is that Covid-19 will be a turning point in humanity, similar to the invention of the printing press and the steam train, but it remains to be seen just what direction all this takes us in. It is the role of leaders to chart that course, have a vision about where we are going, be passionate and communicate and align people with that vision and motivate people to deliver on that together.”
Meanwhile, as the government attempts to reassert its grip on the spread of Covid-19, the country is reeling as the effects of the ‘rule of six’ come into play, which will apply both indoors and outdoors in England and Scotland, and indoors only in Wales.
England’s restrictions affect people of all ages, while Wales has exempted under-11s and the Scottish government has not extended the rule to under-12s.
Some Conservative MPs have called on ministers to exempt young children in England and are pushing for the new rules to be debated, while crime minister Kit Malthouse has appealed to citizens to report neighbours and other individuals who they suspect may be contravening the rules.
The restrictions enter force following a rise in the UK’s R rate to between one and 1.2 for the first time since March. Sunday saw a further 3,330 confirmed Covid-19 cases nationwide, the third consecutive day of over 3,000 new cases being declared, along with five deaths which took the total number of recorded coronavirus fatalities in the UK to 41,628.
While some MPs are calling for a debate of the new Covid-19 laws, Parliament is bracing itself for a key debate at 16:00 BST today when the Internal Markets Bill will face scrutiny in the Commons for the first time.
Former prime minister David Cameron has become the latest in a line of ex-PM’s to express his concerns, saying that he has “misgivings” over the proposals. He joins Sir John Major, Theresa May, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in speaking out over the legislation.
Ministers have admitted that the bill could act in breach of international law, but have urged MPs to support it and argued that it is a necessary “insurance policy” which will guarantee free movement of goods between Northern Ireland and the wider UK in the event that no trade deal is agreed with the EU.
Discussing the move on Monday morning ahead of the afternoon’s Commons debate, Cameron said: "Passing an Act of Parliament and then going on to break an international treaty obligation is the very, very last thing you should contemplate. It should be an absolute final resort.
"So, I do have misgivings about what's being proposed."
Others have also raised concerns that pressing ahead with the bill could damage the UK’s international standing and undermine trust in the long-term.
Former attorney general Geoffrey Cox has said that the move could "ultimately to very long-term and permanent damage to this country's reputation and it is also a question of honour to me - we signed up, we knew what we were signing."
Cox continued: "I think it is wrong that the British government or our Parliament should renege on an agreement on which we gave our solemn word."
Speaking on LBC, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer commented: "He [the prime minister] is making a mistake reneging on a treaty, that will have reputational damage for the UK.
"Here we are on the world stage for the first time in many years on our own and what's the first thing we do? We break a treaty.
"It's basic stuff - if you say to other nations, we agree something and a few months later you say no we don't, the chances are they aren't going to trust you going forward."
Sir Keir said that Labour would back legislation on an internal market if the government “didn’t breach international law”.
He explained: "I would say to the Prime Minister, look go away, go back to the drawing board, drop these problems, don't act in this reckless and wrong way and we'll look again at the legislation."
The Labour leader will not take part in Monday afternoon's debate, having gone into self-isolation after a member of his household had begun displaying coronavirus symptoms.
Elsewhere, pro-Brexit campaign groups are petitioning MPs to support the Internal Markets Bill, arguing that it is “justified under international law” because the EU has breached the Withdrawal Agreement in its own manner.
A letter signed by groups including Facts4EU.Org, Brexit Watch, Scientists for Britain and Global Britain, and individuals such as Professor Patrick Minford, former MEP David Campbell Bannerman and economist Catherine McBride, reads: “It is our collective assessment – backed by highly-respected and EU-experienced lawyers - that the European Union is in serious and material breaches of its ‘good faith’, ‘best endeavours' and other obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement, in which it committed to respect the UK’s sovereignty and internal market.
"We therefore believe that the government is entitled to act to protect the UK to the fullest extent from EU demands purportedly based on this document, and that such action is justified under international law on account of these breaches.
"We ask you to vote in support of the Internal Market and Finance Bills so that a strong and consistent message from the British people and its Parliament is sent to Brussels. The entire country needs certainty in the coming months and we hope you will play your part in providing this."
Leadership in History
On this day in 1984, Colonel Joseph Kittinger, USAF embarked on the first solo balloon crossing of the Atlantic Ocean and would become the first person to achieve the feat.
Launching from Caribou, Maine, in the 106,000 cubic foot Balloon of Peace, on September 14, 1984, he completed the crossing on September 18, landing at Montenotte in Italy after covering a distance of 3543 miles in 86 hours.