Howard Quayle: Isle of Man Chief Minister on his cult “Howard o-clock” movement and “bewilderment” at PM’s underwater roundabout | Politics News

“It’s Howard o’clock” has become a catchphrase used on swimsuits, t-shirts, bags, mugs, wine bottles and, even, has evolved into a monopoly-style drinking game.

But at the same time Isle of man Chief Minister Howard Quayle may have become an almost cult figure during the COVID crisis, he also worked 20 hours a day, scrambled to buy an oxygen plant, and made the “toughest decisions of my life. life”.

As he prepares to leave his post next month, Mr Quayle also told Sky News about the island’s strict coronavirus quarantine rules – which have led to some people being jailed – and the effect of Brexit on the Isle of Man.

“At ‘Howard’ at 4 p.m. every day, people would stop, have a drink, sit and listen to briefings to let them know what was going on,” he said, as the minister chief was explaining how his televised press conferences last year gripped the 85,000 inhabitants of the Isle of Man.

The 54-year-old described the “bizarre” notion of people now wanting selfies with him, as the number of people who now recognize him on the island has skyrocketed, but also how he was “thrilled” with “the” ‘community spirit’ that has been generated in the fight against the coronavirus.

In March 2020, as COVID hit the world, Mr Quayle used the Isle of Man engineering sector to leverage contacts around the world to secure PPE, as he faced the dilemma to make sure the island did not run out of oxygen.

“We had always brought our oxygen in bulk – a container or tanker would come on a ship and fill our storage tanks,” he said.

“That would last us a fortnight under normal circumstances for our hospital. But, obviously, with COVID, we felt like we needed one more hangar.”

Fearing that supplies could be cut off – as well as the idea that an oil tanker traveling to and from the Isle of Man could have supplied four or five hospitals in the UK at the same time – Mr Quayle decided to buy the last oxygen production plant in Great Britain.

“If I hadn’t bought it at lunchtime it would go to Nightingale Hospital in London,” he added.

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Isle of Man has recorded over 7,000 COVID cases and 48 deaths

The next challenge was to build a shed in which to store the plant, as well as create a hospital unit ready to accept COVID patients. And, later, a test center was established in the island’s famous TT grandstand.

But there were also difficult actions to take.

“One of the most difficult decisions of my life was to prevent people from coming back to the island who were residents of the island,” Mr. Quayle said.

“We had given them warnings, we had told them ‘come home, we will close shortly’.

“Some ignored the warnings and we closed. But once we cleared COVID, we were the first location in the British Isles – if not in Europe – to open internally without any restrictions.”

Until January of this year the people of the Isle of Man enjoyed a freedom of life that those in the UK did not have, but “someone broke the rules, came in and we had to lock us again ”.

This freedom was, in part, provided by making other sound decisions.

“If you break our quarantine rules, put people’s lives in danger and get caught, you’ve gone to jail,” Quayle said.

He admitted that the imposition of prison sentences had sparked some outrage, especially when a group of Newcastle welders were caught in a supermarket when they were supposed to be in self-isolation.

How were they caught? Because they “entered with masks” when the rest of the population of the Isle of Man did not have to, due to their zero number of cases.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the first Cabinet meeting since the reshuffle at 10 Downing Street, London.  Picture date: Friday September 17, 2021.
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Boris Johnson is said to want a roundabout under the Isle of Man

Although the Isle of Man is an autonomous dependency of the British Crown located in the Irish Sea, the island has been ‘treated as if we are in Coventry or Cornwall’ when it comes to the coronavirus crisis, which has seen more than 7,000 cases and 48 deaths on the island.

Mr Quayle explained that relations between the island and London “have really improved dramatically” after Brexit, even despite the chaos that reigned in Westminster after the 2016 referendum.

“We have been fortunate to get information very quickly – historically this has not always been the case,” he said.

“The ability for our offices to speak to their UK counterparts, discuss issues and retrieve information – so that we can prepare our legislation to make sure we’re compliant and prepare our industries for whatever is going to happen – is the best ever.

“We don’t want to go back to the old way.”

The Isle of Man government now maintains a wide range of relationships with the departments of Whitehall, rather than having a single relationship with their “godmothers” at the Department of Justice, which formally manages the Kingdom’s relations. United with the outbuildings of the crown.

However, a closer relationship with Westminster does not appear to extend to all aspects of British government thinking.

Mr Quayle said his government “had no involvement” in Boris Johnson’s alleged plan for road tunnels between Britain and Northern Ireland, to join an underground roundabout under the Isle of man.

“We looked at it with a level of bewilderment!” He admitted.

He added that it “would have been nice to have this connectivity” but doubted the level of vehicle traffic would make such a project economically viable.

“It was a little frustrating that people just didn’t think about it – it was a good sound sample, but I never thought it would happen,” Mr Quayle said.

“We have our regular flights, we have our ferry service, it would have been nice to have it but I didn’t see the UK taxpayer getting a return.

“At the end of the day, you have to get what you pay for.”

Nairbyl Bay by night stock photo Isle of Man, England, Northern Europe, Port Erin, astronomy
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There are many starry sky sites on the island

But while Brexit may have brought benefits, recent staff shortages – particularly in the hotel industry – on the Isle of Man are “likely part” of the UK’s exit from the EU, coupled with the rate. historically low unemployment on the island.

“We need to attract more people to come to the island and that’s something we’re working on,” Quayle said.

“We help, we offer grants and things to 20-40 year olds, we seek to attract entrepreneurs.”

And he touted the island’s countryside, with UNESCO status as a biosphere region; as well as its many starry sky sites for observing galaxies, low crime rates and a recent surge in internet speeds, as pull factors for those in the UK who now find themselves mostly working remotely .

“We had an IT company that moved to the island and we didn’t know how it would go – it went exceptionally well,” he said.

“Because the people who were working on software would come home and in 10 minutes they could be on their ATVs on a plantation. “

But Mr Quayle, who steps down next month after the island’s next general election, will leave the decision on whether the Isle of Man will copy the UK in accepting Afghan refugees, after Afghanistan is captured. by the Taliban, to his successor as chief minister. .

So, as his five-year term as Chief Minister comes to an end, are there any regrets?

“I did my best, you’re always going to make mistakes, I’m not perfect,” he said.

“Everything I have done has always been, in my head, the best I could do for the island, so I have no regrets.

“With COVID, hindsight is a wonderful thing and, if we had closed a week earlier, we would have had even fewer cases.”

But he added: “There was no manual. We all invent it, in all jurisdictions, as we go.”

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