France’s Border Ban Was Unneeded and Unnecessary – Conservative Article
Note – In every article, there are three different opinions. This article is Conservative with responses below from the Liberal and Labour party.
Just before Christmas, the UK discovered a new COVID strain; this ‘mutant’ strain is up to 70% more transmissible. The UK did the right thing and quickly alerted the WHO and in reaction, countries quickly shutdown their borders. Even France, one of our supposedly closest allies, went a step too far and banned all trade from the UK border for two days.
The reason I think this is so outrageous is because border closures are ineffective to stop these sorts of problems. COVID-19 patients are infectious before symptoms are shown, meaning that people who have already travelled to mainland Europe are likely to have started spreading the new variant there.
If you don’t believe me, my prediction has already become true. Five countries have reported the new strain so far. No doubt more countries will report cases as well. One of the people with the new variant travelled on 19 December, two days before the ban on travel was imposed. While it is important to try to contain the problem, this policy failed before it was even implemented.
The French response was chaotic and poorly communicated. The UK was not warned that the vital link between us and France would be totally closed in the middle of the night, for two days! This stranded thousands of lorry drivers in Kent, unable to go anywhere. The response was also highly destructive. Shutting down vital trade links is not a viable response. The risk from a solitary driver is extremely low.
The fact that Macron did not warn anyone beforehand that this was going to happen shows that it was a hastily conceived response. It was a knee-jerk reaction to a problem he thought he could contain, but he has not. The consequences were not thought out at all. Macron overreacted.
The French President completely ignored recommendations from the EU’s transport commissioner to not close the border. He was also criticised for bringing us back to the situation in March where supply lines had been threatened. This action was wholly political in nature and COVID had little to do with it.
Firstly, Macron wants to look like a strong leader and distract from problems at home. Problems such as the yellow vests movement, and the controversy surrounding bills on religion and the police. Macron’s popularity is quite low. 60% of people are dissatisfied with him and 61% of people feel like Macron has failed in his COVID-19 response. This is clearly a ploy to gain him popularity with the French people. It is especially needed as Macron will be facing a tough challenge from Marine Le Pen in 2022.
Secondly, is that this was when Brexit negotiations were at a crunch point, and Macron most likely wanted to demonstrate the trouble he could cause if ‘no deal’ occurred. Fishing is a big issue for France so, clearly, they wanted the border issue to impact negotiations and our stance. Macron wanted to cause trouble. Unluckily for him, since negotiations concluded in the form of a trade deal only a few days later, it looks like this stunt had no effect.
This comes at a time where the crossing was already strained due to Brexit uncertainty and the busy Christmas period. COVID-19 just made the crossing more challenging.
Even though this ban was only 48 hours long, it had devastating effects. 10,000 lorries every 24 hours pass through Dover. This caused huge queues of lorries that were stuck and had nowhere to go. Additionally, most of the food delivered is perishable food-stuffs such as seafood and vegetables. These perishables are often delivered on a tight schedule, most likely meaning a lot of food went to waste.
The severe delays would have caused many firms to miss their very busy Christmas deadlines, which is a disaster. Moreover, hauliers were stuck at the border on Christmas Day, even though an agreement had been reached a day prior. This means drivers were kept from their families and missing the one day break where they might have had a chance to see them.
It will also affect imports. Despite the fact that they are still allowed, haulage companies may be unwilling to send their drivers across to the UK because they can’t return in a timely fashion. Shops were quick to reassure that stocks were fine for now and there was no need to panic buy, however Tesco reintroduced caps on certain items.
The talks that the EU had didn’t help. There was speculation that there was going to be a coordinated response, simplifying the restrictions for the whole bloc instead of each country going it alone. However, the EU Commission instead asked countries to ease their restrictions. This came as Germany announced that it was extending their ban until 6 January – the complete opposite of what the EU called for.
This shows that the EU is clearly out of touch on the new viral strain and was just standing by as the UK and France sorted out the trouble, which the two countries managed to do quickly.
However, as Grant Shapps pointed out, because of no-deal planning and Brexit, the UK was somewhat prepared for border issues, even if the plans came into force a week sooner than expected. These plans would have no doubt have helped somewhat. We would have been in a worse position without them, so it is lucky that they were there.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt
Point of Information
Difficult decisions call for necessary scrutiny – A Labour Response
From a French national security perspective, the implementation of a ban on trade and the closure of the borders could be perceived as logical. COVID-19 is inherently scary and highly transmissible so the French cannot be condemned for putting their own citizens and institutions first. However, this was arguably not the overwhelming intention here, as Kieran alludes to, and it was certainly not without dire consequences for all involved.
Ultimately, Kieran is right to suggest that there were many more underlying factors that contributed to this imposition, most of which are of a political nature.
As Kieran says, it does make sense that Macron’s decision was motivated by self-interest. The hasty decision reflects the importance of its impact on the President’s reputation. Dilly and dallying is rarely well-perceived so the quick decision, in theory, could have benefited him. This perhaps would have worked if it was the right decision.
In reality, this, along with the Brexit influence, overwhelmed any other considerations, subsequently leaving Macron to declare himself and his country as more important than the thousands of neglected lorry drivers stranded in the UK. So we can add to Kieran’s list – unneeded, unnecessary, and certainly unethical.
Kieran does well to mention the effects of the border closure on both the lorry drivers themselves and on imports. I am sure the former is enough to convince people of this awful decision. The scenes in Kent before Christmas were frankly shocking and saddening. But if this was not enough for you, at least look to how this could have effected relations, imports and ultimately the economy in the long term.
Similarly, this all contributes to something bigger. Coronavirus is unprecedented and scary. Nobody knows exactly what we’re facing almost a year on from its emergence. Each government is acting how they see best to protect their own citizens and institutions. This decision is just one example of this, and it won’t be the last.
While we can’t fully blame governments for making these difficult decisions, we can certainly hold them to account where poor decisions are being made and the potential for detrimental effects is great. This pandemic will call for more difficult and hasty decisions, but scrutiny must still prevail.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo
Mass testing of travellers is the way forward – A Liberal Response
Macron’s callous closure of its border with the UK was not only reckless, but unnecessary. To halt trade so suddenly, without any prior consultation on both sides of the channel, was an offence to diplomatic cooperation and civility.
Kieran wisely indicates Macron’s ulterior motives in his flimsy attempt to appear as a bellicose strongman. Of particular interest is the President’s desire to emulate what a ‘no-deal Brexit’ would entail for the two nations. It’s true that Boris’ flirtation with a hard leave from the EU would have jeopardized crucial trade with other European nations. Yet, the crux of a global pandemic is not the time for theatrics.
However, as Abi notes, it’s important to stress how novel this pandemic truly is for governments worldwide. When this is considered, Kieran’s tactical diversion to calling the EU ‘out of touch’ becomes unfair in a sudden political crisis, one influenced by an ever-changing health crisis. Whilst the talks failed, it was not for want of trying.
Macron’s new approach appears much more sensible, and indicates a way forward whilst we continue to battle the invisible enemy. Rather than keeping the borders shut outright, he has allowed a steady stream of drivers to enter France. Most importantly, these drivers have to be Covid negative. The approach highlights the need for continuous, quick, mass-scale testing before and after travel.
With the British government finally asking all people entering the country to have a negative Covid test result before arrival, it appears the theatrics are over. If the government could mandate this for those leaving as well, it would only help them further. The unmitigated closure of the border for any longer would have been calamitous. Testing before travelling would be the stopgap to keep our economy functioning.
Written by Chief Liberal Writer, Frank Allen