Ursula von der Leyen: EU vaccine programme is ‘on track’
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And Timothy Congdon also said it was “rubbish” to suggest the UK in any way depended on Europe, suggesting the nation was perfectly able to make its way in the wide world in the wake of Brexit. Mr Congdon, who was a member of the Treasury Panel that advised the Conservative government on economic policy between 1993 and 1997, was speaking at a time when the UK has administered 64.69 COVID-19 jabs per 100 people, well over double the EU-wide average of 27.23.
He told Express.co.uk: “In this case, Merkel – and probably Macron, but ‘the Franco-German dynamo’ may have been one-sided in this case, who knows? – decided that the vaccine programme should be centralised in Brussels, with the European Commission.
“The Commission is not accountable in the same way as national governments, and also has less money and less financial freedom.
“The power to tax remains with the nations and the EU still cannot properly borrow in its own name.
“The result was that the Commission blundered horribly, negotiating and shilly-shallying, when the key decision was to pay up and to make sure the vaccines would be delivered as soon as possible. This is what the British government did, bless it.”
Mr Congdon, who was also who was runner-up in the UKIP leadership election of 2001, said the EU was riven by tensions between two levels of government – the federal, pan-European one centralised in Brussels, and the national one based in each of the 27 member states.
He added: “It is a huge problem, because the politicians have not been open with their electorates about what is implied by the slogan ‘Europe’.
“The mess also affects the single currency, which remains an experiment even 20 years after its introduction. But that is another subject.”
Asked about attitudes towards the UK in the light of the historic decision to quit the bloc in 2016, he said: “Many people ‘on the Continent’ resent the historical achievement of the British, that their language is the global language, that they won most of their wars, etc.
“But I wouldn’t generalise from that to saying that all Europeans are malicious in their attitude towards us.
I just don’t think any generalisation is useful here. We must anyhow try to be friendly with our neighbours, and to wish them well.”
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Similarly, Mr Congdon backed Boris Johnson after the Prime Minister last month ruled out Britain becoming involved in any kind of tit-for-tat “blockade” after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s threat to ban exports of vaccines to the UK.
He said: “I agree with Boris Johnson that we should avoid antagonising any individual European government, however much we criticise the European Commission and other EU institutions.
“At the end of the day, how much of a disaster would it be if Europe simply disappeared from the map, while the British Isles remained?
“How much worse off would we be? Of course, we would be much worse off in terms of foreign holidays, and the disappearance of all these wonderful nations with their cultures, works of art, scenery, second-homes for us, great cooks, thinkers, writers, musicians, etc.”
We do not – ultimately – depend on ‘Europe’ at all
Nevertheless, Mr Congdon also emphasised Britain’s ability to thrive outside the EU as a monolithic institution.
He said: “Let us not forget that for six years – between 1939 and 1945 – we were in that position, of being in effect cut off entirely
from our neighbours, as if continental Europe did not exist.
“There is a silly misconception due to looking at maps and seeing that we are small relative to the Eurasian landmass, and then saying ‘we depend on Europe’.
“Rubbish. We do not – ultimately – depend on ‘Europe’ at all. Not at all.”
Looking to the future, he added: “We should support moves towards global free trade, and the free flow of goods, money and ideas between nations.
“Bilateral trade deals are second-best or third-best relative to that.
“I am also in favour of unilateral free trade, so that the UK becomes like Hong Kong and Singapore.
“If we join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it should be as a stepping-stone to a return to multilateralism, but I am not sure that at present the USA has many pro-free-trade politicians.”
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