Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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TCW’s Brexit Watch


Our regular report from Bern, Switzerland 

WONDERFUL weather here beside the Alps, where we’re all locked down together but in a mature and civilised way. The thanks for this sanity goes to the males on the Federal Council and every Swiss female that I’ve come across in the last few weeks fully agrees.

The Federal Council have still not managed to produce medical face masks from local industry although a company in St Gallen, once the heartland of the local textile industry, expects to start manufacturing any moment. In the meantime, Magdalena Martullo-Blocher, daughter of Christoph, founder of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), now chairman of Dad’s chemical firm and vice president of the SVP – she’s an MP in the National Assembly – opted for direct action. She hasn’t been to the coiffeuse since early last month and has tried trimming her own hair, an art for which she says ‘I have no training and am not particularly gifted’. Magdalena has 600,000 face masks for the hair snippers and curlers of Switzerland and wants them to be unlocked as a first step to unlocking other small independent business sectors. This idea grabbed nearly four pages of the popular Sontag Anzeiger and confirms that the Blocher ability to feel the national pulse has been passed to the next generation.

The SVP are in the driving seat on this as local remedies are quicker than grandiose schemes invented by civil servants in Bern. Much of the help for small businesses has no bureaucratic means to reach any small business. Britain could learn from the problems of highly efficient and careful Switzerland. 

As in Britain, the government are trying their utmost to contain the spread of the virus but are finding gaps in the national ability to make essentials, even in a country with one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated pharmaceutical industries and most modern medical equipment industries. Too many simple items without which a hospital cannot function are made in China or Germany. The Federal Council are importing surgical masks from China – by air freight! They are reduced to putting a minister on the phone to his German counterpart for the delivery of simple protective clothing.  

Swiss taxpayers are not happy.  

There’s a growing realisation of how much of its neighbours’ industrial bases Germany has gobbled. You have to add together the industrial bases of Britain, France and Italy to match Germany’s.  

Der Bund has taken a worried look at the UK Prime Minister’s fever curve. 

Although he is now recuperating, he still may be out of action for a quite a while, and with the deputy prime minister’s position still not clearly defined, decision-making is in limbo. The crisis in Great Britain is thus being exacerbated and the thrust of this article is apposite.

 None of this Government’s predecessors has ever had to cope with the absence of the boss in a comparable situation. Another disadvantage Der Bund points to is the lack of clear regulation of deputising. Should Dominic Raab also fall ill, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, who has been in office for only a few weeks, would take his place. But who exactly makes what decisions? 

If Mr Johnson is unable to resume his office for several weeks, how long can this situation last? Particularly as momentous decisions such as an easing of the lockdown demanded by the economy are pending. The first indications of disagreement among cabinet members were already evident before Johnson was admitted to hospital. 

All this is tantamount to a stress test. Every member of the government in London must realise that. The only question is whether the cohesion now demonstrated in the cabinet will withstand the coming stress and whether there will be a political vacuum at the top of the government. The stakes are extremely high, not only for the government but for the entire country. All eyes here are on Dominic Cummings’s return to Downing Street.

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Adrian Hill
Adrian Hill
Adrian Hill. Former soldier and diplomat, afterwards member of CBI Council and author.

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