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Episode 13 of Andrew Neil’s Spectator TV aired on Thursday, November 26, 2020.

As you can see, the main topics were coronavirus and Brexit:

I haven’t tuned into the episodes following the US election, because everyone is so anti-Trump.

The Chancellor’s spending review

Andrew Neil opened the programme with the UK Government’s spending review.

We are heading towards a national debt of £3 trillion and a budget deficit of nearly £420 billion.

There will be few spending cuts but tax rises will help to fill the gaps.

Kate Andrews gave us more information about Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s statement. She had updated data from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). The economy is set to contract by 11.3%, the biggest fall in 300 years. I wrote about that earlier this year, so it came as no surprise.

We will not even start to recover until 2022. Andrews said that some believe this is too pessimistic, even if the OBR says they took into account that we would have a vaccine. Well, we have that vaccine now (the week after the programme aired), which means that we could reopen our economy by the middle of next year. That said, we do not know how long the vaccine programme will take. Unemployment will rise by 3.5% to 7.5%, 2.5 million people.

Even by 2025, our deficit will still be around £100 billion. There will be a £15 billion increase in social spending, but Rishi will have to start to raise money. We won’t find out how until early next year, possibly at the end of the year.

Andrew Neil said that, so far, the Chancellor has ‘kept his powder dry’. James Forsyth, political editor of The Spectator, said there is too much up in the air right now to make any firm predictions.

Katy Balls, The Spectator‘s deputy political editor, said that a few areas of the statement have raised questions. However, Rishi’s decisions might look more reasonable next year. Some cuts, e.g. foreign aid, will be popular with Conservative voters, including those in the North of England.

Forsyth said that as we spend more on defence, it is logical that something will have to be cut: foreign aid (which, in reality, is not being cut by that much).

The 2019 intake of Conservative MPs have formed the One Nation Caucus, who could rebel against the Government, but, as Katy Balls noted, there are various shades of conservatism that do not automatically amount to mass rebellion.

Andrew Neil asked Kate Andrews about the OBR’s four scenarios, especially the most optimistic one. She said that we do not know how effective the vaccine will be and how quickly the roll out will go.

Neil asked her about the lack of specifics from the Treasury. Andrews said that he is probably looking at all the options, especially positive ones that might prevent higher unemployment next year.

Forsyth said we will know how much more we need to spend on COVID-19 compensation plans by March 2021, but the Chancellor will have to decide on policy by 2022, well in advance of the next election in 2024. He added that the Chancellor will have to put clear water between the Conservatives and Labour on spending. Currently, there isn’t much difference.

Coronavirus tiers in England

Coronavirus tiers came up next. England was still in its final days of the second national lockdown, which ended on December 2.

Only Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight are in Tier 1. That wasn’t known at the time of broadcast, but it was already expected because of indications from the Prime Minister and our national medical experts who warned that most areas in Tier 1 before lockdown would end up in Tier 2.

Neil asked Forsyth whether a relaxation over Christmas for family celebrations wouldn’t start bumping up contagion rates. Forsyth said that, in Canada, after their Thanksgiving in October, rates started to soar. He also mentioned the warnings going on in Scotland: be sensible and try not to take advantage of Christmas celebrations.

Katy Balls talked about the backbench Conservative rebels on lockdown, particularly about the new tier classification. Many counties with low rates are in Tier 2. However, those rebels are not of large enough number to cause the Government to lose a vote on further restrictions. That vote was held on Tuesday, December 1. Balls said that Boris has Labour’s votes on his side, so he will win now and in future.

Coronavirus vaccines

Neil announced that the Government had pre-purchased doses of various vaccines so that two-thirds of the population could achieve ‘herd immunity’. Dr Stuart Ritchie, a behavioural scientist at Kings College London, gave his views on the subject.

Neil asked Ritchie about vaccine scepticism. Ritchie said that more and more Britons were sceptical about taking a vaccine. He found the polls ‘worrying’. He said that there is a new term replacing ‘anti-vax’, which is ‘vaccine hesitancy’. He said that people are rightly worried, especially when they perceive a political element to vaccination. The rapidity of the vaccine development is one factor, the lack of information about it being another. He admitted that there are things we just do not know yet until the vaccine is rolled out.

Neil asked about mandatory vaccinations. Ritchie said that France has several vaccines that are mandatory, as do the US and Australia. Ritchie does not think this will be a question in the UK, because, despite the polls, there is still an eagerness among the public for vaccination. He thinks the Government should pay people around £200 to get vaccinated as an incentive.

Changing people’s minds could be less successful, he admitted. Neil pushed Ritchie on no admittance to restaurants or on flights. Neil clearly is gung-ho on this, sadly. Ritchie agreed, saying that people would feel safer if mandates such as these were added to our everyday lives. (Pathetic.)

Forsyth said that the Government wants 75% of target groups to be vaccinated but added that scepticism would be a problem. Ritchie said making it compulsory would only make people more suspicious. That said, he purported that the vaccine was truly safe.

Ritchie looks very young to me and he was most enthusiastic on vaccination. I would like to see him as a 60+ giving such views.

Katy Balls said the vulnerable as well as front line health workers will be at the top of the vaccination priority list. However, she does not doubt that Conservative rebels will be on the case, depending on the vaccination issue of the day.

She said that one poll showed that the public would be more likely to take the vaccine if their MP took it first. (Excellent idea.)

Ritchie said that vaccine efficacy will determine future uptake.

Brexit

The final topic was Brexit. Neil spoke with Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s permanent representative to the EU between 2013 and 2017. He worked closely with former Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May on this issue. Neil asked Rogers about Brexit talks as they stand. Rogers said they were ‘very fraught’. Time is running out, and decisions now have to be made. Rogers thought the markets were too optimistic on the EU and UK arriving at a deal.

Rogers said that Boris’s government is not ‘classically Conservative’, meaning Thatcherite. He added that we are also in the coronavirus crisis, which has added another dimension to EU-UK negotiations.

Neil said that British politicians never considered how difficult Brexit would be to negotiate. Rogers said that ministers knew about the difficulty and discussed it privately during his time. He agreed that ministers did not have a vision as to how they wanted to negotiate an exit. He added that he had real doubts from the beginning about Theresa May’s deal, which he never thought would succeed.

Then there were disagreements about what a ‘Canada+’ deal actually meant. He said there were ‘huge misreadings’ on both sides. He warned about the ‘++’ element for that reason. The final deal will be much stronger on goods than on services, he thinks, which is a centuries-old priority.

Neil asked if these negotiations could go on and on in smaller ways, even with a deal. Rogers thinks there will be modifications in the years to come. Some of these are already under discussion, he said, which is making a final deal more evasive at this time.

After the interview, Forsyth said that fishing is the biggest issue right now, especially as the French — Emmanuel Macron, specifically — baulking at the UK’s reclaiming our national territories.

Forsyth stated that, even with a deal, future EU-UK negotiations will continue ‘for the rest of our lifetimes’. He said these will be a ‘constant for the rest of our working lives’.

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Thanks to Charles Stanley Wealth Managers for their sponsorship of the programme.

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