What's your emergency?
Written by Scott Reid, Associate Partner
Edited by Kevin Pringle, Partner
Good morning, Emergency is a powerful word in public policy. It is also an increasingly common one. Take today’s papers. After an extraordinary meeting in Geneva yesterday, the World Health organisation has declared the coronavirus a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’. In 2019, too, the emergency was very much on trend. In February, we would have read of Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency concerning the southern US border with Mexico, in an effort to drive through funding for his much hyped (but actually less built) wall. And in the spring, the Scottish and UK parliaments declared climate emergencies alongside commitments of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2045 and 2050 respectively. Depending on your political persuasion, you could legitimately ask: so what? Surely we just ended up talking about the merits, or lack thereof, of a word rather than the solutions demanded by the situation. A critic could feasibly cry “alarmism!” or “political gain!” and so the whole psychological operation of responding to an emergency is undermined. To put a figure to one of these cases - 58 national emergencies have been declared in the US since the National Emergency Act – which Trump used for his wall – was signed in 1976, with 31 of those emergencies renewed annually. And yet, Trump’s was the first that appropriated powers and funding from elsewhere in government and, even then, was eventually challenged in the courts as an abuse of power and overturned with a spending review. Though I am neither a doctor nor a firefighter (alas, one can still hope), the uses of “emergency” in today’s papers are examples of how it can positively mobilise the mechanisms of government. WHO committee chair, Dr Didier Houssin, said the emergency would allow the organisation to better coordinate the international response and hold nations to account if they overstep the organisation’s standards – which may pertain to travel, trade, quarantine or screening. As the frequency of emergencies intensifies, so will its supporting language. Politicians must ensure that their words are backed up by evidence and action, lest the public lose trust, and so understanding, of what constitutes a crisis in times of need.
Boris Johnson is preparing to negotiate a Canada-style trade deal with the European Union, The Times reports. Speaking to the country as the UK departs the EU at 11pm tonight, and again on Monday, the prime minister is expected to say he is ready to accept the “off-the-shelf” model first proposed by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier. In today’s paper, the three leaders of the European commission, council and parliament warn that Britain will lose global influence and power after Brexit. (£) US Democrats look set to lose a vote on calling more witnesses to President Trump’s impeachment trial after Republican senator, Lamar Alexander, said he would not support the measure. Democrats had hoped to call former National Security Adviser, John Bolton, who reportedly said the president had told him directly that he was withholding US military aid to Ukraine until it agreed to investigate Joe Biden. If the vote is lost, the Senate could be given the opportunity to acquit the president later today. NHS England chief executive, Simon Stevens, has branded Gwyneth Paltrow’s Netflix series a “considerable health risk” to the public. The Goop Lab, which began airing on 24 January, sees Paltrow work with doctors, researchers and alternative health practitioners to promote “dubious wellness products and dodgy procedures”, Stevens claims.
Business and economy
Amazon has topped a market value above $1 trillion after reporting fourth-quarter profits 60% higher than expected. Shares in the ecommerce business jumped 13% yesterday, adding $120 billion to close at $1.02 trillion. The jump owed to news that Amazon would be upgrading the eligibility of 100 million products to one-day delivery, having already spent $3 billion on deliveries in the last nine months of 2019, and that 150 million people are now paying for its Prime service. (£) The Bank of England monetary policy committee has surprised many investors by voting 7-2 to maintain interest rates at 0.75%. Yesterday’s meeting was Mark Carney’s last before stepping down as governor in March, when he took the opportunity to warn that Britain’s long-term growth would be hampered by Brexit. Projected UK GDP growth in 2020 was downgraded to 0.75%, having been previously set for 1.25% in November. The board of Aston Martin has convened an emergency meeting to agree a potential £200 million investment offered by two investors. Chinese carmaker Geely and Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stoll have proposed to invest the funds for a 20% stake in the business alongside a board position. A decision on which one to accept is expected later this morning and is thought to depend on additional benefits including Geely’s technical partnerships or Mr Stroll’s links with Formula 1. (£)
Columns of note
In The Atlantic, physician James Hamblin looks at the curious role played by the face mask in the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. He suggests that a lack of information in the west about the masks’ effectiveness in preventing spread of the disease, and how to wear them, has led to a shortage where they are needed most – the east. (£) And in CityAM, Christian May looks back at Mark Carney’s tenure as the 120th governor of the Bank of England. He defends Carney’s cautious approach to policy change and suggests that he moved the Bank into more of a positive, activist role and constructive partner of government on issues including the environment and diversity.
What happened yesterday?
The pound enjoyed a better day than the London stock market on Thursday, with worries about the spread of the coronavirus continuing to hamper appetite for risk among investors globally. By close of trading, the FTSE 100 was down 1.36% at 7,381.96 points whilst sterling was up 0.6% on the dollar at $1.31 and 0.44% stronger on the euro at €1.19, boosted by the Bank of England’s decision to maintain interest rates. In equity news, BT group fell 7.38% after reporting third-quarter results “slightly below” its expectations, a three per cent decline in revenues and five per cent fall in core earnings. Airline conglomerate IAG was also down 3.31% after its subsidiary airline British Airways announced a suspension to all flights to and from China until March due to the coronavirus. Unilever, meanwhile, was up by 2.02% despite flagging similar concerns over the virus and warning that annual sales growth would be at the lower end of its target range.
What's happening today
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Did you know?
In 2019, the average American went to a library twice as often as they visited a cinema.
House of Commons No business scheduled. House of Lords No business scheduled. Scottish Parliament No business scheduled.