Geoff Meade / Mar 2021
European Commission headquarters Brussels: Tuesday, March 16:
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stared with mounting fury at her online copy of the Times of London newspaper.
Suddenly she slammed the ipad onto her desk, shattering the screen and obliterating an image of the British prime minister and the accompanying self-congratulatory article headlined: “The Vaccine Shows Why We and the World Need Britain to be Global”.
It was the last straw. All the British news headlines that day were full of stories reinforcing support for Boris Johnson’s triumphant Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine roll-out and dismissing concerns forcefully expressed by more than a dozen EU member states about a serious risk of blood clots.
To make matters worse there was also widespread favourable coverage of Johnson’s new post-Brexit “Global Britain” strategy for future engagement in the wider world - a blatant rip-off of the EU’s own “Global Strategy” for the bloc’s own future engagement in the very same wider world!
Normally Ursula would have called UKTF, the Commission’s Task Force for Relations with the United Kingdom, but it had ceased to exist on March 1, 2021: the Brexit job done, political street-fighter and UKTF chief Michel Barnier was off to the Elysee Palace (for cocktail parties at the very least).
UKTF had been immediately replaced by UKS, the Commission’s new “Service for the EU-UK Agreements” to ensure “efficient and rigorous implementation” of the post-Brexit trade deal: fine and dandy for the institutional stuff, but up against Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Brexity chums, you had to say that UKS sucks.
That why Ursula, already battered and bruised after a few ill-considered public skirmishes with Johnson, had already made preparations – and now she dialled the number.
The call was answered by one of a small team of officials recently seconded from the Future of Europe Conference Gala Dinner Seating Plan Working Group to launch a new and secret service: the SBTF – the Stuff Britain Task Force.
Its remit: to wipe the smirk from PM Johnson’s chubby features and discredit his undeniably successful Covid vaccine roll-out programme.
“Madame La Prezzydong?” inquired the voice at the other end.
“The blood clot plot isn’t working” Ursula said quietly.
“I’ll be right there” replied the voice.
Commission headquarters: Wednesday, March 17
Ursula walked out of the Commission press room on a high after delivering her “crisis of the century” speech. Threatening to use emergency powers to take control of vaccine production and distribution unless the UK started delivering a “fair share” of Covid vaccine to the EU had been……empowering.
The tactic had been a Stuff Britain Task Force initiative, of course, but when she joined the SBTF team back in her office (appointments diary entry: “Future-EU Conf. gala dinner seat- plan update”) they were already looking ahead.
“Congratulations, Madame La Prezzydong” said the SBTF’s chief planner, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We have ze initiative and zis will be reinforced lateur today when India will declare an ‘old-up in deliveries of five million AstraZeneca vaccine doses intended for ze UK”.
“But, how…….?” she began.
The planner explained that, in exchange for some improvements in the EU-India Strategic Partnership Roadmap 2025 (something to do with integrating Indian domestic production into global supply chains), Indian deliveries of UK-bound vaccine had been mysteriously delayed for four weeks.
By late afternoon the news from India had overshadowed a UK government announcement of “fantastic news” about vaccine progress.
Ursula was delighted – until Boris countered with a statement declaring: “Our progress along the road to freedom continues unchecked.” He meant freedom from Covid, but Ursula only heard more Brexit crowing in his voice.
That night she knew it wasn’t a fair fight – Boris Johnson only had to keep faith with one country, not twenty-seven….
Commission headquarters: Thursday, March 18
Ursula knew that the AstraZeneca vaccine would get the all-clear - again – from the European Medicines Agency, and quite right too. It confirmed her decision to avoid political brinksmanship whenever possible from now on. .
At a late afternoon de-brief with the Stuff Britain Task Force she thanked them all for their enthusiastic work and said they now had to return to their work with the Future of Europe Conference seating plan.
The Conference board was meeting for the first time next week, and she wanted one last favour from the now disbanded and never-to-be-heard-of-again SBTF:
“I need you to fix it so that the Commission’s board representative, Dubravka Šuica, is at the head of this conference table of alleged equals.”
So political brinksmanship goes on….
Commission headquarters: Friday, March 19
In her office Ursula and her cabinet team watched the television coverage of Prime Minister Johnson getting his AstraZeneca vaccine jab surrounded by the world’s media. It was not a pretty sight.
“It’s just a little prick” she muttered in English, and nobody in the room was sure whether she was adopting the popular gender-neutral German language doctrine or not.