WITH all the talk of the “new normal” it is easy to forget about the “old normal”. It wasn’t all devil-may-care trips to the supermarket and hot and cold running haircuts.

Believe it or not, in the old normal, politicians used to turn up on the Sunday shows and talk about their supposed area of expertise. Crazy, right?

Last week, had it been the old normal, England’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps could have chirruped away about the A66 to his heart’s content instead of being hauled over the coals about a certain aide’s trip to Durham.

(Have I Got News for You dug out a clip from one of Mr Shapp’s Sunday appearances, the one where he said Dominic Cummings stayed put in lockdown once he got to Durham – which was not the case. Mr Cummings had, by his own admission, left the house to pioneer a new kind of eye test.)

This week’s Minister for the Sunday shows was Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary. Such was the momentousness of events happening outside the UK, Mr Raab was asked about foreign affairs. His actual job.

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As The Andrew Marr Show and Sky News’s Ridge on Sunday came on air, fires were still burning in cities across the US after another night of rioting sparked by the death of George Floyd. The President had taken to Twitter with comments that were ever more incendiary, including resurrecting the quote from Miami Police Chief Walter Headley: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”.

When asked by Marr about the President’s use of the notorious phrase, Mr Raab said: “I’ve long kept to the self-imposed guidance not to comment on what President Trump says, or indeed other world leaders. It’s not really what my job is.” Not the job of the Foreign Secretary to respond to what world leaders say?

Marr also asked him about China’s plan to bring in a new national security law that would severely limit freedoms in Hong Kong.

At the moment, the 350,000 Hong Kong citizens who have a British National (Overseas) passport can come to the UK subject to a six month restriction. If China goes ahead with the legislation the restriction will be lifted, said Mr Raab.

Asked if hundreds of thousands of people would come from Hong Kong, the Minister said it was very unlikely.

Citing his own background as the child of a refugee, he added: “We have got people around the Cabinet table with similar stories. We are not going to turn a blind eye. We are not going to look away from our responsibilities from the people of Hong Kong.”

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Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told Ridge on Sunday that he had been in touch with his parliamentary counterparts around the world about Hong Kong.

“A lot of us are raising issues with our own Government because this isn’t just about UK, although we have a particular responsibility under the Sino-British joint declaration, it is actually about the rule of law in global trade, it is about the rights of free people to free assembly and freedom of speech.

“This isn’t just about Hong Kong, it is about China living up to the commitments its made. And given that China is a major global player – second largest economy in the world, the most populous country in the world – it is really important we know whether China is going to live up to the promises it made or not.

“That is why this is more than about Hong Kong, it is about all of us dealing with an authoritarian state which has decided to tear up the rules.”

Mr Raab was not able to get through the Sunday shows without any mention of the C-word, both Cummings and coronavirus.

Ridge asked the Minister, who stood in for the Prime Minister after he was taken ill with Covid-19, when he found out about Mr Cummings being in Durham.

“I’m not sure. But to be honest with you, when the story broke was when I first became aware of the detail of it.

“I just knew that he was out of action because he had come down with coronavirus and, given the situation we were in with the Prime Minister taken ill, and very seriously ill as it later emerged, I was just focused with the Government ... on making sure we continued to focus relentlessly on dealing with the virus.

“I knew Dom was unwell and he was out of action, and obviously I wanted him and the Prime Minister to get well soon, but I wasn’t focused on his movements at all and I wasn’t aware of them.”

Marr went for a two birds with one stone approach. Under the new track and trace system, people would be asked to place themselves in isolation if there was a risk they had the virus. Under these isolation rules, asked Marr, was he allowed to exercise his judgment? Could he, for example, drive across the country to get childcare?

Spying the trap a mile off, Mr Raab said: “You can exercise your judgment to follow the rules.” Spoken like the lawyer he was before he became Foreign Secretary.


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