This week in POLITICS ACROSS THE POND, MP Andrew Bridgen writes about the EU and the unhealthy rise of vaccine nationalism. 

The conflict between parties is always exacerbated when they are in competition or perceived competition for scarce and valuable resources. We see this behavior on both an individual and national level. Cast your mind back to the scenes of panic-buying and empty supermarket shelves at the beginning of the pandemic. Every shopper was determined that their household was going to get everything they needed. Then, scale that up to the nation-state or, in the EU’s case, the super-national body aspiring to be the United States of Europe. 
Following Brexit and in order to assert its authority over its remaining 27 member states, the EU Commission decreed that it would order, procure and distribute the Covid 19 vaccines for the whole EU to prevent those with the deepest pockets and the sharpest elbows from getting to the front of the queue. 

The arrogant and bureaucratic nature of the EU has hampered this vital activity and potentially exposed the weaknesses of the block to its 500 million citizens who are tired and scared of the ongoing lockdown measures. This matter is now about something far more important to the EU commission than the health and survival of the citizens it purports to serve. It’s now about the very survival of the EU structure itself.

The EU , as we know, is a protectionist block. Its biggest fear of the UK’s departure from the EU’s control was always that it would have a strong competitor on its doorstep, which might outcompete the sclerotic behemoth and offer disillusioned members a brighter alternative vision of the future as independent nations once again.

This problem that the EU feared of a nimble UK repealing restrictive EU regulations and out-performing the EU economy was always their nightmare. Still, Covid 19 vaccines’ botched procurement has brought into sharp focus the many failings to the EU itself. Delays in approving vaccines for use, which have successfully completed internationally agreed tests of safety and efficacy, have been an evident frustration to EU member states elected national parliaments. This frustration is purely happening because, unlike the EU commission, they are elected and therefore answerable to an increasingly angry and frightened public and electorate. All of this is witnessed by the unprecedented daily criticism of the EU’s actions on the front pages of Europe’s newspapers and their establishment-supporting, usually compliant media. Questions are asked which have never been asked before—a very uncomfortable novelty for those at the top of the EU super-state.

The EU Commission would see all this dissatisfaction expressed by its citizens as unfortunate but manageable were it not for Brexit and the top performance of the vaccination program in the newly independent UK on their doorstep.

The much-publicized daily figures for vaccination in the UK and the bar chart comparisons with EU nations is the real thorn in the side of the EU elite. The excuse the EU officials are giving for their delays in signing contracts is that they were negotiating lower prices and better value for money. The flaw in this argument cannot be overstated.  Oxford AstraZeneca provided vaccines to the world at the cost of production, only, with all the research paid for by the UK Government. How does anyone negotiate a lower price than £3 per dose, especially when the Pfizer vaccine is £24 a dose?

The EU commission might not be very good at protecting the health and wellbeing of the EU citizenry but when it comes to protecting the EU institution itself, they are masters of the art, and those alarm bells are ringing louder than they have ever before in Brussels.

The political deflection of blame by the EU has been rapid, coordinated, clinical, and ruthless. The EU needs someone to blame, and who better than the British-Swedish Company AstraZeneca and the UK Government. We have seen the EU through its outriders such as President Macron and the German Health Department. Casting false assertions about the efficacy of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines for people over 65-year-old, which is completely contradicted by not only the science but also the EU’s demands that despite not having a binding contract they get delivery of 100m doses almost immediately of the British vaccine. The same vaccine they claim is defective!

MP Andrew Bridgen: the EU is very keen to take powers, but not so willing to take responsibility and accountability for their failure.

The EU has got itself into this situation by taking control of the vaccines’ procurement and distribution from their 27 national Governments. We see what we have seen before: the EU is very keen to take powers, but not so willing to take responsibility and accountability for their failure. The panicked EU has indicated that it will block exports of vaccines manufactured within the EU. A few hours before a politically forced U-Turn, the EU activated Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, placing restrictions on the Irish border.

Vaccines have become a precious international commodity. Having them gives the capacity to save lives, and not having them can destroy public confidence in Governments. Yesterday’s announcement that another vaccine, Novavax, has passed stage 3 trials with 89% efficacy against some of the new variants of the virus, and is in the advanced stages of setting up a manufacturing plant in Stockton-on-Tees in the North of England, has also put pressure on the EU.

MP ANDREW BRIDGEN: In early December, I wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to use our £10bn foreign aid budget to provide vaccines to developing countries who have not been able to secure access to the vaccine. I was not expecting the list to include the relatively wealthy nations of the European Union. 

The EU realized that once the UK has completed its vaccination program, it will still control the manufacturing sites for the vaccines, and therefore an element of influence over who they are delivered to. In early December, I wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging him to use our £10bn foreign aid budget to provide vaccines to developing countries who have not been able to secure access to the vaccine. I was not expecting the list to include the relatively wealthy nations of the European Union. 

Unfortunately, I believe that for vaccine nationalism reasons and its own pride, the EU did not ever want to use or even authorize for use the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. The EU has put most of its efforts and hopes into the two French vaccines in development, namely the Merck vaccine developed by the Pasteur Institute and the Sanofi vaccine.  Both of these have failed at trials, with Merck’s research being abandoned this week. At the same time, it is announced that the Sanofi vaccine could not be in production for at least another ten months due to problems in clinical trials. These setbacks have left the EU short of viable vaccines, scrabbling about and politically exposed to criticism.

I appeared on Irish Radio and television this week in the face of the crisis. I stated that it was clearly in the UK’s interest to help the Republic of Ireland wherever we could as they are our closest neighbors and the only country with a land border. Unfortunately, as they are in the EU and have given powers over vaccines to the Commission in Brussels, it was unlikely they would allow us to supply them directly with our surplus vaccine.

We in the UK have a moral duty to help all other nations worldwide with their vaccine and vaccinations. Because the fact is that none of us are fully protected until all of us are fully protected. Still, as it says in the airliners, “In the case of an emergency, ensure that your mask is fully fitted before trying to help others,” we need to keep calm and keep vaccinating.

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Andrew Bridgen

Andrew Bridgen is a Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire.

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