The British approach to vaccine roll out has on one level been impressive. There were two important decisions made. The first was to go in early and negotiate contracts to ensure a good supply of the vaccine. The second was the calculated risk to extend the period between first and second dose in order to get as many people as possible with a level of protection. Praise should be given where praise is due an don both counts Matt Hancock seems to have made the right call.
What wasn’t so good was the slip into nationalistic boasting about how this decision was a benefit of Brexit and how we had outperformed the EU. There are certainly problems with the EU approach and indeed a lot of them stem from exactly the kind of criticisms raised against the EU and the wider political culture within the block by Euro-sceptics over the years. However, the whole point of getting out of a pandemic is that we are not in a race. In effect no-one wins until the last man crosses the line. This is a global team effort.
Similarly, the sabre rattling response from within the EU including from commissioners and some heads of government with eyes on upcoming elections has also been atrocious. There has to be something g not quite right about you if you play politics with a vaccine and use threats essentially not against another government but against a population.
What is being missed is that how you get out of the pandemic matters as much as whether you get out. There are two reasons for this. First of all, the pandemic has necessitated an abnormal approach to life with more authoritarian measures in place than we would like. Such measures may be necessary during a crisis such as a war or a national disaster. However, you don’t want them to become part of the longer-term culture. Signs that the longer term culture Is becoming increasingly nationalistic is likely to increase the fear of continued authoritarianism.
Secondly, the way that we are behaving over the vaccine is setting precedents for what is acceptable both around the world with this vaccine and in the face of future international crises where there is a shortage whether of food, water, fuel or medicine. If we begin to suggest that shutting borders, seizing resources, boasting about our good fortune and issuing threat and counter threat then we are heading towards a nastier world where war is more likely and the shortages and dangers will grow greater not less.
Both Britain and her European neighbours need to look carefully into that abyss before plunging into it and consider if that’s the direction we really want to go.