In one brilliant episode of “The Simpsons”, Montgomery Burns instigates a personal fitness regime to reduce Homer’s excessive weight gain. He quickly realises Homer lacks the discipline to get fit and goes for the easy solution of fat removal using plastic surgery.
This was the exchange:
Montgomery Burns: “Bah! I will just pay for the blasted liposuction!”From “King Size Homer” – The Simpsons
Homer Simpson: “Woo hoo!”
With a lot of funny stuff along the way, obviously.
In the UK we have our very own Homer Simpson, Boris Johnson, and he’s not at all funny. It’s been clear for a long time that Johnson lacks the discipline to enforce a proper lockdown with closed borders, minimised social interaction and proper test and trace. Vaccines are the equivalent of liposuction, offering an easy way out of the pandemic. Never mind the excess deaths of more than 100,000 that have happened while we wait for effective vaccines to be deployed.
And the UK really is forging ahead with an ambitious vaccination programme. According to “Our World in Data”, only Israel (54%) and United Arab Emirates (30%) had administered vaccines to a higher percentage of their population by 29 January than the UK (13%). Other countries in Europe trailed by a long way, with Germany and France yet to reach 3%.
There are four factors as to why the UK has been so successful:
- An early bet was placed on various potential developers of vaccines
- Regulatory approval was obtained quickly for vaccines once these were developed
- The NHS, assisted by thousands of volunteers, is excelling in rapid vaccination of the most vulnerable
- British people want to be vaccinated: a survey of 13,500 people across 15 countries in November 2020 showed 65% of people in the UK were willing to have a vaccine in 2021 – higher than in any other country in the survey
The EU, in contrast has been relatively slow in acquiring vaccines and getting them approved. This makes it impossible to say currently how effective their vaccine rollout programme will be. Perhaps surprisingly, EU citizens are not that keen on being vaccinated: France stands out in the survey referenced above, with only 35% willing to be vaccinated in 202
As a result, political leaders in Europe are under pressure as envious glances are cast at the progress being made this side of the Channel. This pressure culminated in a terrible 24 hours and a humiliating U-turn on plans to erect a “vaccine border” on the island of Ireland to deal with shortages in the EU, without even telling the Irish government first.
It’s tempting to dismiss this as a temporary glitch in EU policy. But that’s wrong, for many reasons. Most obviously because the Brexit-loving press aren’t missing the opportunity to see this as a glaring example of outrageous Brussels behaviour.
In the spirit of knowing your enemy, here are some headlines:
- The Sun on Sunday: “BREXIT 1 – BRUSSELS 0 Boris Johnson foils EU plot to snatch Britain’s vaccine supplies and warns: ‘Hands-off our jabs’”
- The Mail Online: “Boris’s double vaccine victory over the EU”
- The Telegraph: “Ursula von der Leyen’s irresistible rise shows the democratic deficit at the heart of the EU”
- Daily Express: “EU witch-hunt: France threatens to punish AstraZeneca for sending life-saving jabs to UK”
The natural response is to point to the repeated errors made by the British government over the course of the pandemic and to note how quickly the EU reversed their decision to erect a vaccine border.
This is to repeat one of the mistakes of the Referendum campaign: focussing on the weakness of the other side’s argument is what led to all the ‘Project Fear’ jibes of 2016. What those on the pro Europe side need to do is provide tangible reasons why we should extend our engagement with Europe.
This means we need to focus effort on things like:
- Educational work to improve people’s knowledge of UK – EU integration, relationships and history
- Promoting existing twinning and establishing new twinning and other cultural ties with EU towns
- Making the case for voting reform in the UK so that we escape from the tyranny of one-party rule by a minority
- Highlighting the impact that the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) is having on businesses – both the smaller businesses in our area as well as those larger businesses who are covered by national news organisations
- Focusing on local impacts on consumers, on health provision and so on
At some point, a strategic roadmap towards greater integration with Europe and possible re-joining the EU needs to be developed and agreed. What timescale should this be over? Well, the Bruges Group think tank campaigned against the notion of an “ever-closer union” in Europe from its foundation in 1989, over a quarter of a century before the Referendum.
Neither the original Homer Simpson nor our British equivalent would have been capable of such long-term dedication and discipline.
Don’t be like Homer.