variant of the Covid virus managed to do what months of ham-handed British negotiations with Brussels could not. It cut the UK off, for all practical purposes, not just from the whole of continental Europe, but from much of the wider world. Within hours of the prime minister, Boris Johnson, announcing that the scientific advice gave him no choice but to quarantine the whole of the south east of England, first France, then almost everyone else, got the message.
Flights, trains and ships were halted. Continental lorries were unable to cross back to France, the Netherlands or Belgium. UK ministers said, more or less cheerfully, that lorries were still able to enter this country – but how, with most exits blocked, would they then get home for Christmas? Ministers – ministers, not supermarkets – raised the spectre of food shortages.
Needless to say this is about as far from “Global Britain” – shorthand for the Johnson government’s post-Brexit ambitions – as it is possible to be. The idea was that the UK would relish breaking out of what passes for the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. We could trade with the world on our own terms; our ships would be free to roam the seas, we could restore our imperial (sorry, Commonwealth) links where we left off.