In the run-up to the EU referendum and throughout the Brexit negotiations that followed, the Morning Star vied with the Telegraph and the Mail to be Britain’s most anti-EU newspaper. Not only did it use many of the same arguments as the right wing press (most shamefully, calling for greater curbs on immigration), it also used the same rhetoric: “Brussels bureaucrats” (of course), and denouncing pro-EU forces as “a ‘fifth column’ in British political, media and business circles”, who would run up the “white flag” in negotiations with the EU (these are all genuine quotes).
Happily, this rank xenophobia did not go down well in the labour movement: theMorning Star “line” on the EU (sometimes known as “Lexit”) was decisively defeated in the Labour Party and in most trade unions — including Unite, despite what you might think from Len McCluskey’s public comments.
Having (in its very small way) helped Johnson achieve a hard Brexit, theMorning Star has since eased off its denunciations of “Brussels bureaucrats”, etc. But like the rest of the Little-England press, it couldn’t resist gloating over the EU’s vaccine failure, and the brief, ill-advised threat to invoke Article 16 to restrict vaccines crossing the Irish border.
Nick Wright of the Communist Party of Britain and a regular Morning Star contributor, was first off the mark in an article (4 February) on Ireland: “The EU negotiators shamelessly flaunted the Irish tricolour ... But at the first moment when its incompetence in securing adequate supplies of Covid-19 was exposed it reimposed the border as a sanction on a British government which, for all its manifest failings, took advantage of the sovereign powers it regained with Brexit to lay in an early stock of vaccines.”
Wright was either ignorant or lying: the EU did not “reimpose the border”: it threatened to do so for three hours before withdrawing the threat and apologising. And the British government did not take “advantage of the sovereign powers it regained”: Britain was still bound by EU rules when the vaccine programme began and those rules allowed countries to authorise vaccines without waiting for EU approval if they so wished. More to the point, Wright’s celebration of “sovereign powers” in this context amounts to an attack not just on the EU but upon the entire notion of international cooperation.
On case anyone thinks Wright’s comments were an aberration from one particularly xenophobic Stalinist, here are some comments fromMorning Star editorials:
• “EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen will take much of the blame for the continent-wide cock-up over Covid vaccine procurement ...the structural flaws in the EU’s architecture are most at fault.” (15 February)
• “Our ruling class showed some sense of realpolitik when, enabled by the wriggle room provided by our exit from the EU, it laid in a sufficient stock of vaccine.” (11 March).
The truth is, of course, that the EU’s slow and bureaucratic procurement and roll-out of vaccines was not the inevitable result of European cooperation, but the result of avoidable errors by von der Leyen and Macron (pandering to anti-vax sentiment), wrong priorities in negotiations with pharmaceutical companies (over-emphasising low prices), and the fact that within the EU public health has always been primarily a national competence, so EU institutions have little expertise in this field.
In fact some of the failures of the EU could be blamed on its lack of federal structures and integration, especially with regard to health powers.
But the attempt to avoid a free-for-all in which poorer European countries were pushed to the back while richer countries hoarded vaccines (as happened over PPE) was correct.
Strangely, the Morning Star understands the need to oppose “vaccine nationalism” when it comes, for instance, to Israel’s failure to properly supply the Palestinians. The paper has supported initiatives like Amnesty International’s “A Fair Shot” campaign, and the People’s Vaccine Alliance, opposing vaccine profiteering by the big corporations and hoarding by rich countries.
But when the EU — albeit bureaucratically and weakly — attempts to oppose vaccine nationalism, the Morning Star can only sneer — and worse, offer adulation to the Johnson government’s supposed ability to take “advantage of the sovereign powers it regained” due to Brexit.