Here’s To Hoping 2021 Will Be Better
After a whirlwind of a year, many of us are grasping onto the notion that 2021 will be kinder to us. It can only get better from here, right? Below I have briefly summarised some of the things we are all eagerly keeping an eye on in the following year and what changes could possibly be on the horizon.
A word that will trigger us all: for either good or bad reasons. After four years, the UK finally left the EU and by the end of 2020, the transition period ended and Britain went its own way. But what does this mean?
On December 24th the sides agreed on a trade deal, which will inevitably leave doing business with EU states a little tougher than before. Work visas will be required for those delivering a service (auditing accounts, performing concerts or working as a chef, for example), and those staying for business for longer than 90 days. There will no longer be automatic recognition of professional qualifications – people will need to check each country’s rules to make sure their qualifications are still recognised. With each country having its own rules and regulations, things may become tricky. Whilst some (including myself) may mourn over the death of free roaming in EU countries, businesses have bigger problems at hand, one of them being: more paperwork. Even though it has been agreed that there will be no taxes on each other’s goods when they cross the UK and EU borders and no limits on the amount of things that can be traded, traders in England, Wales and Scotland will now have to make customs declarations (similar to when dealing with countries elsewhere in the world). Some products, including plants, live animals and some foods, will also now need special licences and certificates. Other products will have to be labelled in specific ways, requiring businesses to be more diligent when trading.
Will the UK become a laughing stock based on the Prime Ministers handling of COVID, or will Britain’s economy eventually flourish with these new trade (and other) regulations? Only time will tell.
Brexit will bring forth many changes, but one of the selling points for Britain’s divorce from the EU was due to wanting more power and freedom to allow the UK to steer the ship in the direction it wanted to go in. So, even though trade with the EU will become trickier, the UK is free to negotiate its own trade deals with other countries, like the US.
Despite the changes many aren’t fond of and will see as an inconvenience, independent Britain also has a lot going for it, bringing a little light into the mysterious tunnel of unknown circumstances. The UK’s membership of nato, the G7, the G20, the Commonwealth, and UN Security Council all bring influence. The country now has more freedom to try to sway the world in ways that suit British interests, whether on trade, climate change or democracy and only time will tell if Boris’ reign as Prime Minister will influence the world; will the UK become a laughing stock based on the Prime Ministers handling of COVID, or will Britain’s economy eventually flourish with these new trade (and other) regulations? Only time will tell.
U.S. Presidential Transition
A good chunk of the world let out a deep sigh of relief when Joe Biden won the US presidential election. It was a long battle, with Trump crying ‘fraud’ and ‘stop the count’, but results – after recounts – eventually showed Biden will be the next President of the United States. What does this mean for the U.S and the world?
With the U.S. nation becoming more polarised and divided when addressing race, equality and trust in authorities (reminder: ‘fake news’), Biden has quite a challenge of cleaning up Trump’s mess.
On the other side of the coin from Trump’s ‘America First’ stance, Biden has a more traditional take on America’s role and interests; a stance that has been grounded in international institutions established after World War Two, and based on shared western democratic values. Changes could possibly include: returning to the World Health Organisation, thus changing response towards COVID; rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and making climate change a priority by promoting an ambitious $2 trillion dollar plan to achieve goals for cutting emissions; reconciling relations with Iran and rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – a plan which Trump called the “worst deal ever”, consequently pulling America out of it in 2018 imposing various sanctions on Iran. If Iran returns to compliance, Biden will lift the sanctions, which Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister supported, with: “We too can immediately return to our full commitments in the accord.”.
With the U.S. nation becoming more polarised and divided when addressing race, equality and trust in authorities (reminder: ‘fake news’), Biden has quite a challenge of cleaning up Trump’s mess. Trump has, as succinctly said on The Economist, “compared intelligence agencies to Nazis, rubbished intelligence that displeased him and replaced professionals with unqualified sycophants” and Biden will now have to not only clean up Trump’s damage but also reform national intelligence by ensuring the directors of national intelligence actually have the relevant experience to advise their country’s leader.
In general, Biden is more receptive to issues that U.S citizens are concerned about: from his “build back” programme which will create business support for minorities through a $30bn investment fund to tackle institutionalised racism, to repairing broken relationships with US allies and promising to reverse Trump policies that separate parents from their children at the US-Mexican border. Such changes may not be easy, however, with the potential of Biden facing opposition due to some being quite sceptical about his plans, but we can hope big reforms will happen.
Our changes in response towards technology will influence the regulations at hand.
Cyber Space & Tech Power
I could take this time to discuss the impact of COVID and the economy, but we are all most likely aware. From remote working to crashing markets, we all lived through the pandemic together and are conscious of the impact it has had, especially in relation to technology advancement. The past year has accelerated the adoption of many technological behaviours, from Zoom meetings to increased online shopping causing the demise of the once loved high street, causing tech usage to accelerate more than predicted. Things may return to the old ‘normal’ for some once the pandemic is more under control, but it is safe to say tech has been happily embraced and will remain to be a big part of businesses and everyday life in the years ahead. And I am not just talking about connecting to Teams to keep your company up to date – that comes with risks and perhaps more needs to be done to curtail the average hacker attacking the average company. But, as the world has rapidly increased its tech usage in all areas, from defence to transport, cyber attacks become more of a problem. In 2011 Leon Panetta, America’s secretary of defence at the time, commented that “the next Pearl Harbour…could very well be a cyber-attack”. Sounds ridiculous almost, especially when she compared it to the likeness of 9/11. But last year we saw a cyber attack that shut down the computers of a hospital in Düsseldorf, which left a woman needing urgent surgery sadly dying after being transferred to another city. Hackers have also repeatedly demonstrated the ability to seize control of cars that have internet connection, leaving its passengers vulnerable. So, it is not hyperbole to say a cyber attack can be deadly. It very well can be.
Our changes in response towards technology will influence the regulations at hand. On a less murderous scale (I hope), we can look at the reaction towards BigTech. I addressed late last year, on how BigTech is now seen to have too much power, thus causing Lawmakers to analyse and decide how to tackle this, especially for the betterment of BigTech users and other competing, smaller tech companies. With Google promoting Google’s products over others and Facebook purchasing companies they see as competition, we look towards 2021 with curiosity on how Lawmakers may try to take back power or level the playing field, at least. It may take longer than one year, of course, as with anything that has been mentioned in this article, but we can look to hope that some changes that are coming our way will set a more progressive, positive year(s) ahead. Anything will be better than 2020, right? We hope so.