Awkward time to be Pro EU

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For once Jim is in critical mood about the European Union, but stresses the need to maintain good relations with the bloc despite their poor handling of the Covid crisis

Those of you who are kind enough to read my blogs, will know how opposed I was to us leaving the European Union. My belief in an ever-closer union, with the UK in it remains, but the chances of that happening have gone from remote to almost impossible following the Covid crisis.

The EU believes in doing things together and wanted to avoid vaccine nationalism within the bloc when effective jabs became available. The problem with action in solidarity is that it can take time to come up with solutions. An exception should have been made in this case. The political leaders should have told the Commission to act at speed to secure vaccine supplies.

Instead, they were slow, then complained when AstraZeneca honoured a contract placed first by the UK, then cast doubt on the efficacy of the vaccine and are now facing fresh total shutdowns as Covid 19 spreads once again.

The thing that has angered me most is the criticism of AstraZeneca. Some argue that the pharmaceutical industry should be nationalised because of its importance to health. I fear the long term, and often frustrating search for new drugs, would not pair happily with politicians unable to look beyond the next election. Anyway, AstraZeneca was a private company that pulled out all the stops and lost millions of pounds in potential profits to meet the emergency. Of course, they were morally obliged to act in the face of a global pandemic, but they don’t deserve EU politician’s criticism. It has been reported that some people in the leading drug companies are saying “never again”. I hope that is not true, but it is understandable.

Anti-EU politicians in Britain must be allowed their hour of gloating over the bloc’s discomfiture, but the government’s brilliant success with our vaccination programme, shouldn’t be used to widen the gap with Europe. We still need a measure of goodwill to iron out the many trade issues that remain unresolved after Brexit.

Devolution anyone?

Where are we on English devolution? If you watch the Downtown Den, you will have heard different views from our recent guests.

Steve Broomhead is the Chief Executive of Warrington Council. He’s been waiting for years while Whitehall dithers over plans to create a Combined Authority (with or without an elected mayor) for the town and Cheshire.

He told us that centralisation has returned. He cited how local authorities were bypassed over track and trace and claimed the “tyranny of bidding” had returned with the Towns Fund. He means by that, that rather than decisions being made locally, councils must elbow each other out of the way to impress ministers in London to give them cash.

Tom Bloxham, the boss of Urban Splash, on the other hand believes devolution is still on course. His evidence was the moving of government jobs to the north and the success of elected mayors.

We must hope for more progress on devolution after the local elections. Meanwhile have a cracking Easter.

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