There was a phase in UK politics when ardent Europhiles liked to describe themselves as the ‘grown ups’, trying to save the country from immature Brexit fantasies. The European vaccine crisis continues to prove just how wrong this interpretation was.
While the EU continued to talk this week about blocking vaccine exports and to falsely assert that their weak contract with AstraZeneca entitles them to British vaccines, the British government have been taking quiet, sensible steps to dial down the tensions. Britain seems set to agree a deal to share some of our vaccines with the EU. This not something that we need to do: under the terms of our contract, these vaccines belong to the UK, and the EU cannot seize them without trampling on the rule of law.
However, with the EU behaving increasingly erratically and threatening to disrupt live-saving global supply chains, it is sensible for Britain to make charitable efforts to help the EU out. From the point of view of enlightened British self-interest, we need the EU to get their efforts back on track, so that at some point vaccinated Britain will be able to reopen its borders.
It makes particular sense for Britain to offer vaccines to Ireland, to allow both the north and south to reopen and mingle freely across the border. The cabinet are reportedly discussing making such an offer in the near future. As we discuss on the website this week, Brexit opens the way for a new era of cooperation between the UK and Ireland as mutually supportive independent nation states. Close cooperation between Britain and Ireland is desirable on both the vaccine question and the issue of the Irish Protocol, which is an undemocratic imposition on Ireland as much as it is on the UK.
Meanwhile, the highest court in Germany has temporarily blocked the EU’s 750 billion Euro post-Covid Recovery Fund. Opponents of the recovery plan object to the new right given to the Commission to borrow vast sums in its own right. This ability to borrow marks an important step in the EU becoming a single state. We are not holding our breath that the temporary block will be made permanent.
On the website this week
Brexit may depend on what happens in Northern Ireland, by Briefings for Britain
The EU tried hard during the Brexit negotiations to tie down the UK to permanently observing its own EU regulations. It failed then but is trying again in the context of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“Let’s hope that the UK keeps its nerve and uses alternative means, including article 16, to remove the worst aspects of the Protocol, or even better to remove it altogether.”
Don’t worry about inflation, by Paul Sheard
Some economists have been alarmed at the huge expansion in the amount of money created in the process in the process of financing anti-Covid measures and fear a new wave of inflation. Dr Paul Sheard of Harvard Kennedy School says not to worry. As long as Central Banks stay independent, they will be able to deal with inflation.
“Central banks will not lightly surrender their independence and governments will think twice about trying to take it away. That social contract will keep the inflation demons at bay.”
An Irish Nationalist Criticism of The Northern Ireland Protocol, by Anthony Coughlan
Irish economist, Professor Anthony Coughlan, fears that the Northern Ireland protocol is an undemocratic imposition that threatens the basis of peace in Ireland. He backs the idea of what is now called ‘mutual enforcement’ as an alternative to a border in the Irish Sea and as an Irish nationalist thinks that the cause of Irish unity would be best served by Ireland leaving the EU.
“Leaving the British Union to become a Member State of the European Union is not independence at all, but rather a shift from a political union of four national elements to one of 27 or 28 EU States.”
The EU supposedly prides itself on promoting the rule of law. Yet its latest threats to seize control over vaccines and other commercial property represent a grave threat to that principle, writes political scientist Dr Anna Bailey.
“Once violated, trust in private property rights and the rule of law is very difficult to re-establish.”
Key points this week
A Vaccine against Disinformation?
The extent of the misinformation from various European sources over vaccinations is so substantial that one has trouble knowing where to begin. Let’s start with accusations that UK was trying to ‘blackmail’ the EU by France’s foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Given the UK’s done nothing of the sort it’s hard to refute this one by reference to actual facts. If it’s a reference to Boris Johnson’s observation that seizing property doesn’t tend to make you a very attractive destination for investment, then Mr Le Drian needs to get himself a dictionary.
There was the claim by Mario Draghi, Italy’s prime minister, that ‘certain companies’ (ie. AstraZeneca) sold their vaccines two or three times over. This unsubstantiated, Trumpian speculation is the more bizarre because AstraZeneca produces the vaccine at cost. There’s no incentive for the company to behave in this way – as Draghi, the former head of the ECB, ought and likely does understand all too well.
This cynicism was compounded by the raid he ordered (at the European Commission’s behest) on an Italian finishing plant for AstraZeneca vaccine. ‘Discovering’ 29m doses, European leaders initially claimed that this was a secret stockpile for delivery to the UK. As it turned out, around half were for the EU, and the other half for the COVAX programme – which supplies vaccines to developing countries.
Contrary to the fig leaf the Commission presents about only prohibiting exports to nations with higher vaccination rates than itself, it’s entirely in keeping with previous policy. After Italy confiscated doses paid for by the Australian government, Canberra petitioned Brussels to release vaccine supplies which Australia planned to send to Papua New Guinea to deal with the COVID crisis there. The Commission, of course, made no response.
At this point, by contrast, readers might be reminded that Britain was the largest donor to COVAX’s market financing mechanism for most of 2020. The EU and its apologists like to carp about how many vaccines ‘they’ export – but, as is rightly reported ad nauseam, the EU didn’t produce or pay for them – private companies based in Europe and third countries did. As Dr Anna Bailey writes for our website, confiscating their property and tearing up their contracts amounts to a serious breach of the rule of law. A funny way for a ‘rules-based’ organisation to behave.
Seizing COVAX doses is, alas, just the logical next step towards vaccine piracy. As the French industry minister put it to reporters, ‘we are in discussions about the rest of the doses, but the advantage now is that we have got our hands on them’. It is quite possible that Macron can only meet his grandiose promises of intensified vaccinations, and redeem his mismanagement of France’s spiralling case numbers, by confiscating charitable donations to poor countries. The indifference of the Ancien Régime, it seems, is alive and well.
Key Points is compiled by a Cambridge PhD student.
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How you can help
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An Oxbridge PhD Student
Dr Graham Gudgin
Economist, Centre for Business Research, Judge Business School University of Cambridge
Professor Robert Tombs
Emeritus Professor of French History, University of Cambridge