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A risible vaccine skirmish

The FT on Saturday accused Ursula von der Leyen of “sabre rattling”. I can report that within my WhatsApp group this rattling has brought together Brexit leave and remain voters for the first time in years. She has touched upon the British obsession with observing the etiquette of queuing. Anybody who has visited a European ski resort will recognise that the Brits and the Europeans simply have a different approach. Joining your friend at the front of a queue might be acceptable in Chamonix, but it certainly isn’t in Chelmsford.

Hence, it is not that the EU fails to recognise that the U.K. placed massive orders for vaccines months before Brussels followed suit. Brussels simply has a different view of the importance of this early order (the queue) when it comes to distributing vaccines. However, the rhetorical skirmish and the spectre of tit-for-tat export restrictions on vaccines (and their ingredients) is risible. The U.K. is being accused of selfishness for not sharing the benefit of being at the front of the vaccine queue, but the EU only wants this benefit to be shared with itself. Both sides are setting a poor example to the rest of the world.

The fact that the U.K. was able to jab more arms last week than the 50 worst placed nations have been able to achieve during the entire year is a startling fact. However celebrations of these statistics in some sections of the British media are misplaced, as scientists have reminded us that virus mutations will flourish in nations where the vaccine roll-out is slow. The reality is that none of us will be safe from this pandemic until everybody is safe. That means everybody in the world, not the EU, or the U.K. Please stop arguing and get on with it.

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