Two years ago, the Chancellor was just beginning to contemplate the enormous impact Covid 19 could have on the UK economy and businesses. Within weeks he was she shelling out £70bn to furlough workers and the total bill looks to me like half a trillion.
Its beggars’ belief that two years on a completely different crisis could force him to further public spending, only previously encountered in the world wars.
The spring Budget is going to have to cushion people and businesses against 40% in energy bills, and we were complaining about last year’s 13% increase. The measures taken to mitigate that seem hopelessly inadequate now. £9bn to cover half the rise in domestic energy bills and half of that, repayable loans.
Whilst Rishi Sunak contemplates what to do, the debate is raging about what to do to free us from dependence on Russian oil, gas, and coal.
There is short- and long-term issues. The short-term ones literally centre on keeping the lights on and factories operating in the case of countries like Germany and Italy. But we are all affected because energy prices are global.
If not Russia, then where? Where are those benign democracies with plentiful oil and gas resources? The United States and Canada are the exceptions to a general rule that the supplies of energy are held by countries with very poor records on human rights and it is going to be fascinating to see if the West holds its nose even more to replace Russian supplies.
We have had a devil’s bargain with Saudi Arabia for decades and a long-term UK-Qatar deal for liquified gas is in prospect. Then there is Venezuela whose relations with America have been difficult to say the least over the years. Finally, we come to Iran. This is the really fascinating one.
Everyone agrees the world order has been shaken. There is a real prospect of Russia and China coming even closer together in their banking and energy arrangements. Iran could be a potential third partner unless she can be won over by the prospect of selling oil to the West in return for the lifting of sanctions. Israel would be furious, and it is unlikely to happen, but all options have to be considered as we try and break all ties with this brutal regime.
PATEL MUST GO
The government’s argument against an open door even for Ukrainian refugees has a thread back to the Brexit debate. The Tories commitment to a hard interpretation of the Leave victory still resonates. We can only look on in admiration at the enlightened policies of our former colleagues in the EU.
But leaving aside the merits of our bureaucratic approach to admitting these refugees, we have the performance of the Home Secretary. Day after day Priti Patel assured MPs that a well-oiled machine was in place only for a BBC reporter to find a table, bag of crisps and no visa forms in Calais.
It was the same with the boat people. She claimed things were under control whilst the flimsy inflatables continued to discharge their desperate charges on our beaches.
The Home Office hasn’t been fit for purpose for years and almost deserves the leader it has got.