On Monday morning, Clément Beaune, Emmanuel Macron’s Europe Minister, clipped out the section of his media interview criticising Britain’s vaccination strategy and posted it on Twitter. He declared: ‘What is happening in the UK is not something I envy. It is a strategy of massive acceleration which also means taking more risks because the Covid situation is much worse there.’
Such remarks are becoming something of a habit for Beaune. He fired off tweets lambasting Brexit in the days after the deal was done and grinned broadly in an interview this year when he was questioned about reports that British cabinet ministers had asked him to tone it down on his Twitter account.
Macron has also been critical of the UK vaccination programme. In a conversation with journalists last month he said the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was ‘quasi–ineffective’ for the over-65s, although he admitted he had no data to back this up. The jab was subsequently approved for all age groups by the World Health Organisation.
It is not just the French who have taken pot shots at the British approach. Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission President, has said that countries which used emergency authorisation to get vaccines approved, as the UK had done, failed in their ‘gigantic responsibility’ to ensure that everything was safe before proceeding.
These attacks on the UK’s vaccine programme are revealing. In part, they are simply a means for politicians to defend themselves against criticism. Given the stick von der Leyen was getting over the Commission’s procurement of vaccines for EU countries, it was understandable that she would try to suggest that places that were further ahead had cut corners. But there is something else going on here.