FOLLOWING the submission of a public petition calling for a referendum of the British electorate before any treaty committing the country to take instruction under international law from the World Health Organisation on its future response to pandemics, the UK Government has issued its response. Instead of saying it was in listening mode and might take account of what is said in Parliament and in any future debates (not least what might come out of the Public Inquiry) it has doubled down and committed itself to agreeing to a treaty that is not yet even drafted.
The government is taking us down the road to a serious and costly folly. No doubt all the opposition parties are in the same bandwagon too. Here are seven reasons why such a course is the wrong one.
1. There is no sense, no logic, no rational justification for rushing into accepting the terms of a binding international treaty on future pandemic responses when we have not had our Public Inquiry to determine what we should avoid doing in future. Given the clear and uncontested levels of incompetence and miscalls in the authorities’ panic to respond to Covid-19 there is every probability that the same mistakes will be repeated, with lives lost, livelihoods ruined, education forever lost and the future of generations put at risk if we do not wait and learn the lessons of the Inquiry’s findings. We need to understand what we got right and what we got wrong before agreeing to who will decide our response in the future.
2. The Government has no democratic mandate to sign away its responsibilities to protect and guard the safety of the British people. The Government has a duty of care to ensure that the best public health responses are made. This does not rule out the Government agreeing to take up recommendations that WHO might choose to make in the future, but such decisions should only be appropriate when they can be assessed against what is required in the best interests of the British people – not what is decided by a majority of unaccountable people whose interests, no matter how well intentioned, lie elsewhere.
3. The poor record of WHO during the pandemic does not justify agreeing any international treaty that cedes power over decisions to the institution, not least because it is open to manipulation by foreign powers and multi-national corporations – both groups whose interests will often conflict with those of the British people. Do we really want China, or Russia or other such powers deciding in consort that we should lockdown and have international law on their side so that it may be enforced against our wishes? The variations in international responses – between that of Sweden (minimal restrictions, low pandemic deaths) and Peru (highly restrictive lockdowns and high pandemic deaths) – is wide. Why should the UK not set its own course rather than be told what our response MUST be?
4. There is every possibility that what WHO decides will be wrong. There is an understandable and acceptable case for shared levels of information gathering, dissemination of research and learning from experiences that shape best practice – but this is completely different from a Government abdicating its ability to choose how to ACT, not least when it can mean confining people to their homes, preventing them from meeting family, being able to work, attend school, walk on a park, attend a wedding or a funeral, pray together in a place of worship – and be criminalised for not accepting such restrictions.
If our Government gets its decisions wrong it is accountable to us – if WHO gets it decisions wrong it is accountable to no-one – and certainly not us. We need to have accountability and that means our Government must take responsibility for pandemics – not outsource decisions overseas.
5. The contention that WHO represents a settled will of science and is therefore fit and proper to make decisions ‘on behalf of the world’ is simply preposterous. There is no settled science, there is no settled approach to pandemics – there is simply an establishment narrative that changes its consensus at a whim. The WHO was opposed to masks and then under pressure from various Governments changed its views and sought for them to be enforced. The nature of Covid was openly debated until suddenly that became inconvenient and most of that debate was shut down by authorities including by WHO. The nature of the necessary levels of response was also debated by scientists and experts – such as those signing the Barrington Declaration – and they too were shut down and silenced. The WHO’s technocrats and experts are not the only people with evidence-based analysis. Our Government should be free to take all views into consideration and not limit its information and insights to what the WHO would deem permissible.
6. Who exactly would decide at WHO? Would it be leaders such as Justin Trudeau and Boris Johnson (or Keir Starmer) elbow-bumping in concert with Premier Xi? Would it be diplomats taking their instructions from leaders like Kim Jong-un (North Korea is now Chair of the UN Disarmament Forum)? All of these people will over time be replaced and possibly by even worse authoritarians of malicious intent. The WHO pandemic treaty would be forever, it will outlast even the good leaders and good governments. We need to have checks and balances against bad international regimes and their leaders – we need to repatriate decision-making to our own shores.
7. We should not sign away our democratic accountability we fought long and hard to obtain and preserve. Ironically, our prime minister fought a referendum on a slogan of “Take Back Control” but now his Government wants to “Give Away Control” to WHO. We need to retain our democratic processes, and strengthen them. By having the need for a referendum before agreeing to signing an international treaty – like is practised in many European states, such as Ireland, Denmark (this week) and France – we can protect our democratic accountability. When there are huge financial and powerful interests pushing for decisions to be taken globally – far away from our local communities – we must do all we can to place limitations on such unbridled power.
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Brian Monteith, Editor, Recovery blog
Photo: WHO HQ, Geneva, Switzerland.