Vaccination success may be a shot in the arm for Britain in another key way

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 22, 2021

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash


“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”
– George Orwell

Simon Kuper wrote an important piece in the Financial Times (paywall) the other day about the pandemic-induced chance for success thrown up for Brexit Britain. I hope Boris Johnson and his advisers read it.

“What national strengths does Britain’s vaccine success reveal?” he asked, “Is there a model here for Brexit Britain?”

These are excellent questions and Mr Kuper provided insightful answers.

First, he noted the great “British triumph: the fastest vaccine rollout of any large country”. Indeed, it is quite astonishing. As Mr Kuper points out, the UK has administered nearly 24 doses per 100 people, compared with about five for the European Union. Britain did this by betting heavily on vaccination as a way to get past the pandemic, spending equally heavily on buying millions of doses when the vaccines were no more than a gleam in scientists’ eyes and then helping foreign companies start production at British sites. “Suddenly,” Mr Kuper writes, “the UK has a burgeoning vaccine industry. Helping winners in emerging sectors: here’s an industrial strategy for Brexit Britain”.

The nimbleness – in buying doses, setting up production sites in the UK and then licensing vaccines – could be the way forward for a country that’s hit ever harder by Brexit.  Mr Kuper quotes Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London, to say that British regulators in other sectors such as fintech could be just as nimble as its Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Possibly. This is not to say that Brexit has been a good thing. As Mr Kuper says, “leaving Europe’s single market is an act of self-harm. (Trade, for all that Brexiters went on about it, is the worst possible argument for Brexit.)”

That said, Brexit has happened and we are only now starting to get to grips with all it means. Faced with (self-sought) barriers to free trade, Britain must look for another, sustainable growth strategy.

That’s where the vaccination drive comes in. It’s true that its vaccination success could be a shot in the arm for Britain in another important way: confidence. When something goes right, it helps with self-belief. This is true for countries just as much as individuals.

Behavioural economist Peter Atwater recently noted, when there are perceptions of certainty and control, we acquire confidence about how we see ourselves faring in the future.

Indeed, success in one endeavour can help visualise other, bigger triumphs. That’s the hope anyway, for those of us who Mr Kuper somewhat wistfully categorises as follows: “People like me — Remainers, as we used to be called”.