Boris Johnson tries to bring UK school crisis under control as political disaster looms

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The main gripe is that Johnson’s government took too long to take the virus seriously, meaning it had an inadequate testing regime, locked down too late, and obsessively trying to manage the crisis from London. The result is that the UK has suffered the most deaths in Europe and the fifth in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University.

During the crisis, Johnson’s government suffered from several embarrassing scandals – from his chief adviser accused of breaking lockdown rules to a messy U-turn after national confusion over schoolchildren’s exam results led to protests in London.

Unfortunately for Johnson, life probably won’t be much easier this fall. After a turbulent summer, British lawmakers return to parliament on September 1, giving Johnson’s opponents of the Labor Party – newly reinvigorated under the leadership of Keir Starmer – a forum to hold him accountable as numerous crises clash between now and the United States. end of the year.

September is the month when large parts of the country will try to return to some degree of normalcy. Students will return to schools and universities, meaning parents who had been forced to stay at home to care for their children will be able to return to work.Having failed to get the children back to school earlier this summer, it will be vital for Johnson to oversee the successful start of the new school year in England next week. “I have already spoken about the moral duty to reopen schools to all students safely, and I would like to thank the school staff who spent the summer months making the classrooms safe by Covid in sight. a full return in September, ”Johnson said in a statement on Sunday evening.

It is “vitally important” that all children return to school after months of disruption, Johnson said.

The statement was widely interpreted in the UK media as an attempt to show Johnson was on top of things. But as the UK opens up, the risk of a peak in coronavirus cases increases. “All of these things could help the virus to spread again, as the potential contacts will be greatly increased,” said Simon Clarke, associate professor of cell microbiology at the University of Reading. He adds that as fall draws closer to winter, “people might think they have a normal winter cough or cold and take the virus to work, school or college.” .

Returning students to universities could pose a particular risk, said Rob Ford, professor of politics at the University of Manchester. “It will be a miracle if we don’t have a major shutdown within a month of the start of the academic term,” he said. “About 500,000 students from across the country mingled in high density student housing and campuses.

Government supporters say it is essential for the UK economy, which contracted 20% in the last quarter, to reopen. But health experts are worried about the consequences. “If we go back to the same level of contact we had in March, we will return to the same level of epidemic growth,” Graham Medely, professor of infectious disease modeling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told CNN. .

It would be politically difficult for the government to manage. “It’s entirely possible that we need another round of extremely interventionist lockdowns, and in the six month interval since the first lockdown, they’ve messed up the goodwill by looking like an incompetent mess,” said Ford.

The challenges of Brexit ahead

Another challenge this fall is the UK’s rush to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union. While both sides are determined to reach a deal, talks have not progressed significantly for some time. The current transition period with the EU expires on December 31.

Johnson, of course, led the campaign to leave the EU in 2016, resigned Theresa May’s government over what he called the softness of her Brexit policy, and led his leadership campaign with the promise to adopt a harsher line with Brussels.

A UK government source, not authorized to speak officially, told CNN that while a deal “can be reached” by early October – the last absolute date in the eyes of the UK – but that “it does not mean that he will. . The source added that Brussels negotiators still did not fully understand the UK’s position and that the lack of a process and countdown meant the mood was darker than in previous rounds.

This feeling of not being understood is mutual. An EU official, who is also not authorized to speak officially, said: “We need to better understand and become aware of our position and the reality of what it means to leave the EU. This source believes the UK is holding on “in the hope that everything will be agreed in the end”, but note that this position is “fraught with risk” and could result in a rushed deal that is not really worth the effort .

The deadline is tight, as there is still a long way to go between the conclusion of an agreement and its entry into force. Anton Spisak, a former Cabinet Office Brexit official, said that “even after a political deal is made, government lawyers must ‘clean up’ the text to ensure that it is indeed legally usable, a process that can take months … The problem for Boris Johnson is that he imposed the end of year deadline on himself, so he must find a legal solution to avoid falling off the potential cliff. ”

Georgina Wright, senior researcher at the think tank of the Institute for Government, said the EU ratification process “means a vote in the Council (grouping of 27 Member States) and the European Parliament by December 31 “, Adding that parliament has” been very clear that it will not be rushed into a deal – their last sitting is on December 14th. ”

The economic implications of the no-deal are well known, but given the pandemic there could also be political implications. “If there is no deal, then there is a real danger that the two sides will spiral downward and blame each other, eventually leading to a nasty standoff,” said Anand Menon, professor of European politics at the King’s College London. “We saw in the early days of the pandemic the UK’s reluctance to work with the EU in key areas. How bad could it be if negotiations ended in October and then the virus exploded in November? “

Of course, it could be that schools and universities reopen safely and the economy starts to rebound again. The gloom surrounding Brexit negotiations could set the stage for a stunning breakthrough. It is entirely possible that Johnson will end the year with his Brexit deal and the country is on the cusp of emerging from the pandemic with its head held high.

Or it could all go wrong. “A virus spike, Brexit talks gone awry, schools and universities due to shut down, all of these things combined would create a tornado for the government,” Ford said. “And if they are handling these crises as incompetently as they have handled almost everything else, the opposition just needs to start over and let them continue to wreck their credibility. ”

Either way, the next four months won’t be easy for Johnson. Even if everything turns out the way he wants it to, much of how it turns out is not in the hands of the Prime Minister. And should the worst-case scenario come true, he could be faced with the unenviable reality of having to make tough decisions about how Britons will be allowed to celebrate Christmas time.

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