Gloating over Europe’s travails is a stupid and shortsighted way for the UK to respond
Careless talk costs lives. Since the beginning of the vaccination programme, the government has safeguarded information about levels of supply as if the number of vials in its possession were a state secret on a par with the location of Britain’s nuclear submarines. Whenever journalists have asked how much vaccine is available, they have been met with dead-bat refusals to comment. This is partly because ministers have only had a rough idea of the answer to this critical question. The health secretary was compelled to acknowledge, when he suddenly announced a delay to vaccinations for the under-50s, that the government’s ambitious targets for immunisation are vulnerable to disruption because production glitches can make supply “lumpy”.
The other reason for so much secrecy is anxiety that envious rivals short of supplies might try to poach vaccines ordered by Britain. Paranoia about that has been particularly acute in regard to our near-neighbours. Contrary to the claims made by some Brexiters, divorce has not made the cross-Channel relationship happier and easier, but more poisoned with mutual suspicion. British fear of the EU’s intentions has been reciprocated by a belief within the bloc that the UK’s vaccination programme can only have been rolled out so much more successfully than their own because perfidious Albion has gamed itself an unfair advantage. Whether or not that is a justified belief, it is an understandable one given the EU’s experience of dealing with Boris Johnson.