Being

Being "dragged out" of the EU is saving Scottish lives

by Brian Monteith
article from Thursday 10, December, 2020

HOW a country acts, how its government behaves, is as much a cultural decision as it is a legal one. Laws can be changed or retained, but making decisions, especially difficult and challenging decisions, requires political will. It is not enough to have the ability to go against the herd, to challenges the received wisdom and the international consensus – it requires balls.

This is why every Scottish life being saved by the Pfizer vaccine is being saved by Brexit dragging Scotland out of the EU.  Yes – it is undeniable. Brexit is saving lives, Scottish lives, British lives.

A bold claim? Fake news? No. It is the new political reality. Brexit – whether it’s the full British Brexit I might prefer and suspect is being taken off the menu, or the vegan Brexit-lite I expect to be served up – is the reason the UK started administering the Pfizer/BioNTech on Tuesday 8th December 2020.

I wrote about this in my regular Scotsman column on Monday, under the headline “Vaccine approval becomes our biggest Brexit bonus yet” – not because of any misplaced chest-beating British exceptionalism like that of Conservative minister Gavin Williamson – but because it had to be said to my mainly Scottish audience that had Scotland left the UK in 2014 it would not now be receiving the vaccine. 

The First Minister of Scotland had made the claim, quite shamelessly, that an independent Scotland would of course still be able to work with the UK in matters such as vaccine development and approval because geography would dictate a close-working approach to see off such threats to human life. Sturgeon is either utterly deluded of what the new reality her ‘independence’ will deliver – or knows how unlikely if not impossible such a co-operative outcome would be – and is therefore willing to lie to voters about the odds-on certainty an independent Scotland would be just like Ireland. Still Waiting.

The point is simple enough; if Scotland had elected to go ‘independent’ in 2014 then Scotland would be outside the EU because it had left the member state – the UK. Salmond and Sturgeon would have moved heaven and earth to take Scotland into the EU, probably without even a confirmatory referendum, and if successful, any souls remaining in Scotland right now would not be able to receive the vaccine until January – at the earliest. 

Scotland being in the EU but using an approvals agency outside the EU – such as the UK’s – would be unlikely to be acceptable to the EU – just as you cannot use another country’s currency if you are an EU member.

If the SNP had not been able to arrange accession to the EU, Scotland would have had to create its own medicines approvals agency and there can be no certainty it would have been able to handle the complex process of granting authority for legal use with any credibility. Everything else Sturgeon’s government has touched has, after all, turned to dust. (It’s a long list including ferries, hospitals, a benefit agency, a bridge, education etc. that are unfit for purpose that I shan’t bore readers with here). 

There is also the very strong probability the UK Government would not in any case be minded to work with Scotland. Why would it? It will have its own people to look out for – and that would no longer include those who had chosen to repudiate British citizenship. Remember, the Treasury made it clear in 2014 that Scotland would not be able to use the Bank of England as a central bank if an independent Scotland continued to use the pound Sterling as its currency. Why would it behave dfferently about accessing the UK's Medicines and Heathcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

It’s a hard knock life, and these are the real possibilities that have to be faced up to. Whatever the scenario of independence Scotland would not be getting the vaccine this week.

Fortunately the majority of Scots said No (repeat, they said No) – and so the vaccine is therefore being distributed in every part of the UK, including Northern Ireland. Meanwhile Ireland looks on, unable to work in partnership with the UK because it is a member of the EU and defers to the European Medicines Agency. The same goes for every other EU member state.

There are, as ever, those that claim that this has nothing to do with Brexit (such as Full Fact), arguing the Pfizer vaccine was granted emergency approval, as is allowed under EU regulations, as if to suggest that by using the UK’s own internationally respected MHRA Boris Johnson’s government has behaved as any EU country would and ducked out of EU members' cultural behaviour. This is as deluded as anything leaving the lips of Ms Sturgeon.

The question is, why has no other EU country – like Germany, where the BioNTech lab that perfected the vaccine is situated – like Belgium, where Pfizer is manufacturing the vaccine doses by the million – like Spain or Italy, where Covid-19 has wrought massive pain and suffering through tens of thousands of deaths – why have they not sought to use the same legal get-out to grant approval for the vaccine so they might use it now, like the UK has?

How must it feel to be a worker in the German lab, or the Belgian manufacturing plant and know the vaccine the worke on is going abroad and cannot yet be used on fellow Germans or Belgians – or anyone else in the EU – because the EU agency will not even consider the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine until 29th December?  

On Tuesday 8th December, the US Federal Drugs Agency gave its approval to the Pfizer vaccine, meaning that had we voted to remain in the EU we would be watching the vaccine being administered in America this month like the rest of the EU.

The simple truth is not that there is a clause in EU regulations that has allowed the UK to behave differently, it is that Brexit has changed attitudes in the British government – including Whitehall mandarins – so it is now acceptable to be different, to do what is in Britain’s national interests and not wait on the rest of the EU for fear of not being communautaire.

Had the UK still been a member of the EU the Foreign Office would be telling the Foreign Secretary, who would be telling the prime minister and the cabinet, that we must stick with the European Medicines Agency or it might move its HQ out of London, or we might lose out in other respects in the EU. The British Government would not have dared to think of applying Regulation 174 of the Human Medicine Regulations 2012 – just as no other EU state has done. 

It is this cultural change in mindset, this heroic change in attitude that Brexit has delivered and will continue delivering – irrespective of what trade deal materialises. 

The potential for what Britain might achieve, now shorn of its EU straitjacket, is incalculable. In creativity, invention, perspiration and a newly discovered solidarity, Britain can establish its own new prosperity – and ensure it is shared across the whole land, rather than concentrated in the South Eastern corner of our island.

It is because no economic forecaster can see what opportunities lie before us through the novel process of making decisions for ourselves – and what benefits will be unleashed – that such optimistic but rational economic modelling has remained as unlikely as considering the economic future of life before steam power or the internal combustion engine were realised. economic projections are meaningless, they can only evaluate how things are done now, not how we may behave differently in the future.

Yet the truth is that our future is now in our hands to a greater extent than ever before – and this means saving lives as much as building better ones.

Every life saved in Britain before the Pfizer vaccine and possibly the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine too – are approved for use by EU member states – is a life saved by Brexit. We shall never of course know that number, it may be small, or it may be big – but lives will be saved because our UK Government made a decision to apply the rules for our benefit. It is not a decision the great europhile Nicola Sturgeon would have taken even were it possible to do so.

It shall not be the last such benefit to come from Brexit.   

Brian Monteith was Chief Whip and Brexit Party MEP for North East England 2019-2020 and before that a Conservative & Unionist Member of the Scottish Parliament 1999-2007. He has worked in public relations for nearly thirty-five years, initially in the City, then Scotland and finally as an international consultant in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. He is now managing editor of brexit-watch.org and ThinkScotland.org. 

Pool photo by Jacob King of Covid vaccine being administered in UK to Margaret Keenan. 

 

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