February 1st 2021
Before the EU Referendum I described the Brussels Regime as arrogant, over-weening, bureaucratic and corrupt. I omitted to mention that it is, as has been demonstrated recently, also incompetent.
It is no secret that, even as a Euro-sceptic, I voted to remain within the European Union. I did so because for all of my misgivings I believed that in the interests of our economy and of our national and international security we were better off seeking to exert influence from within rather than, as a modest presence on a large world stage, sacrificing the undoubted benefits of the Common Market and relying upon our own diminished defence capability and membership of NATO for our protection in an increasingly dangerous world. I hold entirely to that view.
That said, it has been made very clear that we were right to reject the prospect of a European Foreign Policy and a European Defence Force as the prerequisites of the realisation of the desire, in some quarters, to create a United States of Europe. Co-operation over matters of mutual and global interest – climate change and the environment for example – is one thing but Europe has demonstrated, not just over the past ten days but over the past ten months, that when national survival is at stake common purpose goes out of the window.
Notwithstanding the efforts of the European Health Commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, to achieve some co-ordination in the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic the EU approach has been disjointed, chaotic and, at a supra-national level miserably ineffective. From the earliest outbreak in Italy to the most recent shambolic response of the Commission that has resulted in an unforgivable diplomatic gaffe it has been “every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost”. The attempt by French President M. Macron to dangerously and irresponsibly try to undermine belief in the efficacy of the Oxford vaccine at the same time that the European Commission was seeking to lay contractual claim to supplies of the drug from the manufacturers, Astra Zenica, was crass and politically inept. The Commission`s own initiative, which would have destabilised the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic was a disaster in the making. As a diplomatically experienced friend of mine commented, in any organisation other than the European Commission heads would have rolled by dawn.
Whether this was a dismal low-level and possibly freelance initiative to try to mask the failings of an EU vaccination programme that is way behind the curve, has failed in timely fashion to approve and order vaccines and has led to the suspension, in some countries of the entire life-saving programme, is as yet unclear. What we do know is that in an attempt was made to drive a coach and horses through the Northern Ireland protocols, in a manner that makes Mr. Johnson`s threat to tear up an international Treaty via the Internal Markets Bill positively honest, The European Commission announced through a Press Release that it proposed to ban the export of vaccines from Ireland to The Province, thus effectively re-establishing the `hard border` that EU negotiators on both sides has spent months in painstaking determination to avoid. The Irish Taiseoch, Micheal Martin, who first heard of this proposal through the Press Release, was, to say the least, not best pleased and Michel Barnier, the EU`s Chef Brexit negotiator, was also quick to proclaim the folly of the announcement. The Commission President, Ursula Von der Leyen, found herself in full and abject retreat on behalf of her Commission colleagues with the United Kingdom standing firmly on top of the moral high ground. It even allowed the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (“CDL” as he likes to be called) to magnanimously offer to try to assist the EU with their vaccine supplies and a rollout programme in which we now, of course, have some experience.
If this leads to a shift in the relationship between the UK and the EU and the ironing out of some of the more absurd by-products of our Trade and Relationship agreements, such as the inability of travellers to take a sandwich picnic to mainland Europe and the imposition of excessive costs imposed upon goods for private use imported or exported between the EU and the UK, then that will be a very good thing. What is vital, though, is that not just the EU (including of course the many UK citizens living within EU countries) and the UK but the whole world is protected against Covid 19 by all of the available vaccines as soon as possible. Only then will we literally be able to breathe freely again.