Our Friends in Europe

Our friends in Europe”, as the Prime Minister graciously calls them (and by which he means in the EU) are hostiles, not friends. This has been clear to most of us for some years but became transparently so during the vaccine fiasco.

The EU’s spite is potentially murderous; not only did its Commission threaten a hard border in Ireland without notice or due procedure but it has put measures in place to obstruct UK supply chains for vaccines and materials ordered by the UK and attempted to undermine trust in the UK-developed jab. So brazenly hypocritical was the first of these outrages that it had to retract but its international reputation has been damaged.

The other life-threatening outrages have not been withdrawn and are aimed specifically at the UK. Other countries have been assured that their supply chains are exempt from interference [1] and US vaccine companies have not been attacked. Interestingly, enforcing the export ban has now been devolved to the individual EU nations against the tidal flow of regulatory responsibility, presumably to avoid more blame being laid at the Commission’s door. And the Commission has handed down the blame for its mess to a subsidiary department. (“Number one rule of any leader: if your organisation screws up, never, ever blame your team publicly” – Alexander Stubb, ex-Prime Minister of Finland.)

AstraZeneca’s (AZ’s) manufacturing facility in Belgium was raided by police and it has been threatened with legal action (which would be judged in a Belgian court) if it does not divert UK-manufactured supplies to make up for delayed output at its EU facilities. This has not happened to Pfizer which announced similar difficulties in achieving the volumes specified in its contract; the USA will not be subject to border controls on vaccines or materials yet the terms of the contracts with both companies are similar. There are 195 countries in the world of which 168 are not members of the EU; 120 of those are exempt from the Union’s new export transparency mechanism for vaccines but of the remaining 48 just one is in Europe. An easy question for our readers: which one and why?

It is worth noting that AZ’s contract with the UK Government, agreed in May 2020, was for 100 million doses of which 30 million were scheduled to be supplied by September 2020. However, due to similar problems with ramping up production, only four million doses were supplied to that schedule [2]. This is common for vaccine production which is why AZ promised “best reasonable efforts” to meet the target. It typically takes two to three months to stabilise and ramp up production at a new plant, roughly how much later the EU took to place its order and to approve the vaccine.

Is anyone proposing to take the European Commission to court for breaching the terms of the UK Withdrawal Agreement, specifically the Northern Ireland Protocol? After all, the EU quickly took a case against the UK for supposedly breaching the Agreement with the Internal Market Bill [3]. We assume – but only because we’ve heard nothing to the contrary – that the case was quietly dropped after the Trade Agreement was signed, and anyway the UK’s bill had been withdrawn by then.

It might be best (in some sense) if the case against the Commission were to go to the CJEU, which would no doubt produce a judgement in favour of the Commission, as its remit under the Treaties obliges it to do, thus exposing clearly this understated remit and denying its claim of impartiality. Of course in another sense it would be better if the CJEU (or another, genuinely impartial, court) ruled against the Commission.

From the text of Annex 7 to the Protocol the case seems clear enough, except for the unquoted bit of point 3 [4], which the Commission would no doubt use in its defence: “When exceptional circumstances requiring immediate action exclude prior examination, the Union or the United Kingdom, as the case may be, may apply forthwith the protective measures strictly necessary to remedy the situation.” The EU is very fond of creating “exceptional circumstances” to cover its tracks and no doubt they would call their action “strictly necessary”.

Such an attempt may be countered by point 4: “The Union or the United Kingdom, as the case may be, shall, without delay, notify the measures taken to the Joint Committee and shall provide all relevant information.” They didn’t bother. As Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney warned: “The [NI] Protocol is not something to be tampered with lightly, it’s an essential, hard-won compromise, protecting peace and trade.”

Whilst the Commission loves to bully we have seen national governments and petty officials do the same. Paperwork in the wrong-colour ink can delay a lorry trying to deliver fresh goods via French and Dutch ports, a border official even confiscated a British driver’s ham sandwich. And the EU’s export control order exempts several regional countries but excludes the UK from this list.

The Jabberwock

Now there is a report that staff have been withdrawn from the animal inspection teams at Northern Ireland (NI) ports because of threatening graffiti and behaviour. So the NI Protocol is doing exactly what a hard land border would do—threatening the fragile peace represented by the Good Friday Agreement that the EU was so keen to defend during the negotiations on the future relationship with the UK, although the EU contributed little or nothing to the achievement of that Agreement, despite their propaganda to the contrary. That—and the other restrictions on trade that are already evident in practise—look like good reasons for using the ‘safeguard’ clause in the Withdrawal Agreement’s NI Protocol to seek an immediate remedy, through the Joint Committee of course [5].

[1] https://www.euronews.com/2021/01/29/eu-astrazeneca-row-von-der-leyen-hits-back-at-vaccine-maker-saying-contract-crystal-clear

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/funding-and-manufacturing-boost-for-uk-vaccine-programme

[3] EU Commission To Sue the UK

[4] A Remain Risk Exposed

[5] Draft Withdrawal Agreement: a Fatal Flaw


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