David Martin has accused the UK Government of engaging in “vaccine nationalism” and suggested the EU working together spared every country scrambling against each other for vaccines.
His comments follow a dispute between the UK and EU over vaccine supplies as the European Commission outlined plans to stem supplies of jabs to nations faring better in the pandemic.
Speaking exclusively to The Scotsman, Mr Martin, who represented Scotland in the European Parliament from 1984 to 2019, admitted the EU had got things wrong, but still helped others.
He explained: “If there wasn’t an EU procurement programme, what would the alternative have been?
“The alternative would have been Germany, France, Spain, Italy etc all making their own bids and all competing against each other and the UK and there would have been even more chaos.
“There is an argument that the EU acting collectively has actually made it easier for vaccines to be distributed and for countries, particularly smaller countries, to make sure they have a smaller supply.
“From what I get from my former colleagues, while there is criticism of the commission in terms of the general public, most public’s across Europe still think it was better that the EU acted together.”
Mr Martin also suggested the perception of Britain’s vaccine procurement would change over time.
He said: “Thanks to not being in the EU probably gave a very short-term benefit, but in a few years people will discover we paid significantly more for our vaccines than any other country. We probably did better because of our distribution rather than our availability.
“Maybe in a few years time what will be seen is we did slightly better, we’re not doing as much better as people imagine.”
The former Labour MEP, who lost his seat in his party’s disastrous final EU election result, also suggested it was unlikely to change the perception of the UK Government, only reinforce what people already thought.
He said: “I think if you believe in UK-wide nationalism and you should look after number one and number one alone and were in favour of taking back control. You’ll think ‘thank God we’re out the EU and Britain can stand up for itself’.
“If on the other hand, your inclination is towards international co-operation and solidarity, then the whole farce is likely to reinforce your views that way.”
Mr Martin admitted the EU had got it wrong over the row, but pointed towards the number of vaccines they have exported.
He said: “I think their mistake was to make a contractual dispute between itself and a company into a dispute between the EU and other nations, particularly the UK.
“It appears they’ve now come out fighting a bit, but if any country is engaged in vaccine nationalism it’s the United Kingdom.
“We haven’t exported a single dose of the vaccine, while the EU has done something around 80 million doses to 30-odd countries across the world, with of course the bulk of it to the United Kingdom.”