This Friday, 31st January, the UK will leave the European Union at 11pm and enter transition. 11pm? The government can’t even negotiate the time they want to leave. So what will happen next? Many commentators are saying; ‘not much really’, ‘things will carry on as usual’, but they are wrong, very wrong. What Boris Johnson and his cohorts are planning for us is nothing less than the total dismantling of our society. It will not happen overnight, but the starting pistol will have fired on three key lodestones of our democracy.
These are the first three I thought of; there are many more.
Restriction of movement
The purpose of Brexit, was for Britain to take control of its borders and the restriction of movement was meant to be one way. But, by making travel more difficult, Brexit will have negative effects on the movements of its citizens.
Katherine Atkinson, of The Safer Tourism Foundation, says: “Deal or no deal, we are confident that post-Brexit, flights, cruises, ferries and trains will continue operating from the UK to the rest of the world.” Phew.
So, we can travel, but the likelihood of increased queues, red tape and insurance premiums, the re-instatement of roaming charges and possible antipathy towards Brits, particularly in business, may make the prospect less attractive.
Travel insurance is likely to change substantially, leading to the gradual erosion of the NHS. Bear with me here.
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is a key benefit of membership of the European Union. It covers medically necessary state-provided healthcare, cheaply, or free of charge, until your return home. After 2020, all UK travellers will need health insurance in order to feel safe abroad.
Obviously, travel insurance costs will rise massively to take advantage. It may not go up immediately, as this will depend on whether the UK can agree reciprocal healthcare agreements with individual countries, which is unlikely.
So, for the first time in their lives, British citizens will find themselves having to pay for their healthcare. They will have to, in order to be treated across Europe.
And from there, it is not such a huge jump to consider paying for health insurance at home; why not make your healthcare Europe-wide?
In winter months it is usual to see TV ads for travel insurance companies, especially targeting skiers. The EHIC does not cover repatriation. These ads are going to increase as insurance companies start to target their larger post-Brexit target audience.
Post-Brexit trade talks with Washington are due to start next month. Which brings us neatly to the NHS.
I have found the recent proliferation of private health insurance ads on our screens really invidious. In the past week, in ad breaks in Coronation Street (ie. very much prime time) I have seen a commercial for Beneden Health, who call themselves the ‘alternative to health insurance’ and private health company, Nuffield, who are apparently, ‘specialists in you’. They are touting themselves as alternatives to the beleaguered NHS.
As the NHS creaks under the strain of an ageing population and a demoralised workforce losing a sizeable chunk of its staff because of Brexit, if Johnson doesn’t sell it piecemeal to Trump, many people will be forced to go private to avoid the queues and the conservatives’ dream of a US-style, market-driven health service for the rich will start to be realised.
If that isn’t depressing enough, Johnson is going to ensure that if we protest about any of this, we will be captured for posterity, or criminal proceedings, either by our own government, or the Chinese government, as the conservatives ramp up the surveillance state.
The Metropolitan police has just announced it is to use facial recognition cameras operationally for the first time. This follows years of failed trials.
Initially, the technology will be used to find those wanted for serious or violent crime and the timing is particularly pertinent, on the eve of our resignation from Europe, because the European Union is considering a temporary ban on face recognition, to safeguard its citizens’ rights. We will be exempt.
The ‘virtual identity parade’ London citizens will now run on a daily basis will change our relationship with the police and scrap whatever notion we once had of ‘public space’.
The technology will lead to more widespread and invasive usage, or what Natasha Lomas, in her book, TechCrunch, calls ‘surveillance creep’.
Adding facial recognition capabilities to CCTV cameras, means that the police could, in theory, track anyone across London and call up their whereabouts immediately.
But; if you are doing nothing wrong, it doesn’t matter right? Well, race equality campaigners, including Stephen Lawrence’s family, climate activists and party conference hecklers have all been held under terror laws. A man in London, was stopped last week and arrested by police for covering his face with a scarf.
This facial recognition software is used in South Korea and China, to stamp out anything the state deems to be negative. These authoritarian regimes are quelling their citizens with technology developed by, among others, the Chinese tech company, Huawei.
What could possibly go wrong?
Boris Johnson has taken to treating his job as prime minister like his internships at the Spectator and the Telegraph, by turning up, under-prepared, only once a week. And this week in parliament, he gave the Chinese tech firm Huawei, designated a ‘high-risk vendor’ the opportunity to build non-core elements of Britain’s 5G network.
The company will be banned from the ‘core’ of the 5G network, and from operating at sensitive sites such as nuclear and military facilities, and its share of the market will be capped at 35%.
“We are clear-eyed about the challenge posed by Huawei, which we today confirm is a high-risk vendor,” said a Whitehall source.
But the source insisted a ‘market failure’ meant there was little alternative in the short term.
Giving all our data, now and in the future, to China, seems risky, to say the least; even Donald Trump is lobbying for a ban on using Huawei’s technology, saying it represents a long-term security and surveillance risk, potentially compromising British sovereignty, so there are fears that intelligence sharing between the US and the UK could be compromised.
It may seem like catastrophizing somewhat, but I really believe that our exit from the EU, on the 30th January, represents the beginning of the end of freedom of travel, our unwavering faith in the NHS and the redefinition of what we mean by public spaces.
Not bad work, for only a month in power, by Dominic Cummings.
As the new 50p sardonically says: “Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations”.