By Brian Monteith – 5 minute read
Here’s a simple question to ask yourself, or your friends and relatives – “After all that you have experienced and witnessed during the last two years of the Covid pandemic do you trust your own government to manage the next pandemic response, if one is required?”
I have no idea how you, dear reader, might respond. You may think our government did a reasonable job of managing a pandemic response – or not!
If you are happy with the series of three lockdowns and their associated regulations and laws then you are probably not reading this article and will be content that any lessons from the Public Inquiry will be helpful to improve the next response.
If you are unhappy with the Government’s response you may think it was simply the particular politicians or party that happened to be in charge at the time and it would have been handled better by someone else. Or you may think that while it got some decisions right the Government got too many things wrong – but any government might have – and what is needed is for the coming public inquiry to establish the facts so we can learn lessons and plan better for the future.
The common factor in such responses is that there is a capacity for you to have a say; you can make your views known at the time of the Public Inquiry through a variety of channels; ultimately you can vote for different politicians; we know the system is not perfect, but the Government has a large degree of accountability to the public.
What we learn in the Public Inquiry may cause you to change your view of what happened, it may encourage you to vote a different way or possibly not at all. But there will be a Public Inquiry under the full glare of the media. There will be a reckoning.
If you are dissatisfied there will be opportunities to show your displeasure and influence change in the future. Being able to effect such change is what helps maintain a rules-based peaceable society.
But what if the Government decides that rather than face its responsibilities and be accountable for its decisions, it will henceforth contract out pandemic judgements and decisions to a supra-national body responsible for maintaining public health around the world?
I offer you then a follow-up question, “If there is another pandemic, would you prefer the response to be managed by unelected technocrats and administrators from Geneva, without recourse to anyone to overrule them or hold them to account afterwards?”
Would you be prepared to put your faith in a global body made up of ‘experts’ rather than politicians? Would you expect to be happier if those making decisions about masks, social distancing, attending places of worship, kids attending schools (or not), your business being able to open were not accountable to you locally (through your MP) or nationally (through the government)? Would you feel more confident that your voice might be heard with a panel of bureaucrats in Switzerland and New York?
Would you expect healthcare experts with international responsibilities to be better at devising rules for you nationally?
How would your or your community’s concerns rank alongside those of officials in Madrid, or Abu Dhabi or Bangkok or Beijing? Do you think that you would be heard at all, never mind consideration to your thoughts be given?
In short, do you think it possible to construct a system with enough checks and balances that it could be more responsive than a national government where politicians can be dismissed or forced to resign? Would you expect any recourse to effect change internationally, or offer any redress if things went wrong?
These – and many questions like them – are what we must ask ourselves as the World Health Organisation (WHO) moves through the process of developing an international Convention – a rules-based legally-binding treaty – which is intended to ensure a co-ordinated response from the nations of the world to future pandemics. The potential is for the WHO to direct and instruct our government what to do when pandemics arise rather than simply offering advice and co-ordinating co-operation, as it can today.
Reading the House of Commons briefing document – ‘The WHO Pandemic Preparedness Treaty’ gives me great cause for concern because it carries the hallmark of so many similar multinational initiatives that are well-intentioned but suggest a Kum ba ya naivety about everybody sharing best intentions. Governments must think about how the treaties they agree will be interpreted in the real world – where top officials in global bodies like the WHO may potentially answer to hostile nations and the decisions of international courts can be subject to interpretations very different from our own.
In the real world, power struggles produce perverse outcomes. UN Human Rights Organisations end up including governments from China, Mauritania, Venezuela Somalia and Eritrea – countries where slavery, intolerance of religions and sexual preferences can lead to imprisonment if not death. Every power we sign away strips away our protection from such control.
We are talking here about the same WHO that ignored Taiwan’s early alarm about the arrival of Covid, praised China’s Communist Party for its transparency when it was denying human transmission and punishing whistleblowers, delayed declaring an emergency, flip-flopped on masks, and had a farcical investigation into the #OriginOfCovid.
It is the same WHO that has been shown to have a close relationship with the big pharmaceutical companies as well as the Chinese authorities.
A lot of the rhetoric used to describe what outsourcing means is worryingly indicative of a desire to mask the reality of WHO taking decisions like lockdown and imposing them at global level: ‘all of Government’ – ‘all of society’ – ‘whole of Government’ – ‘strengthening global capabilities’ – ‘coordinated international response’ – ‘enhancing the One Health approach’.
How many people understand what these smooth euphemisms really mean? Such phrases are likely to be intentional: the threat from any treaty is that these seemingly empty jargon phrases can subsequently be reinterpreted to give WHO sweeping powers. As we can see with the NI Protocol, Boris Johnson is inclined to agree treaties with no grasp of the detail and what they may later be interpreted to mean. Seeking to amend afterwards can prove to be exceedingly difficult.
The House of Commons briefing reveals how the UK Government has supported such a treaty at the initiation stage, no doubt thinking that better international co-operation must be a good thing – but co-operation is very different from overseas direction on the basis that an international body, having taken a view and resolved to act in a certain way, can impose that approach irrespective of what a national Government may think. The time to start arguing for strict limitations to what powers can be given away is now.
Today, you can lobby your MP, you can (still) assemble at a march or a rally, you can bombard the media with your concerns – there are many ways you can make your views known. And you can vote. What use will these be in holding the WHO to account?
Our Government has to be made aware it cannot sign away its responsibilities and emasculate our agency to determine our own pandemic response. If we lose our ability to hold the decision-makers directly to account we all become victims.
Everyone who comes to this blog should read the House of Commons brief and form their own view. We would like to hear what you think. In the meantime Recovery will continue to monitor the developments and keep you informed, in the belief that while our Government undoubtedly made mistakes that cannot be allowed to be repeated, it is far better that we can hold them to account rather than a faceless overseas body, otherwise there will be no democratic control over policies which, as we have seen, have the potential to throw our way of life into chaos, remove our fundamental rights, and devastate our economy.
Brian Monteith, Editor, Recovery blog
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