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Shortfall of G7 leaders’ vaccine pledge is moral failure, Gordon Brown tells Methodists

14 June 2021


Gordon Brown speaks in Glasgow last month, on the eve of the Scottish elections

Gordon Brown speaks in Glasgow last month, on the eve of the Scottish elections

THE G7 leaders’ pledge to fund one billion vaccines falls “far short” of what is needed and represents a “moral failure”, the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said.

Delivering the Methodist Justice Lecture online, on Sunday evening, Mr Brown said: “The G7 summit was one venue where, with the world’s richest countries sitting round the same table, we could have made a decision that could eventually halt Covid in its tracks.

“But, while the G7 have offered one billion vaccines, the world needs 11 billion. And I still hope they will agree, over the next few weeks, a burden-sharing plan proposed by the leaders of Norway and South Africa, under which the richest countries pay the cost — two-thirds of it — of immunising the poorest citizens of the poorest countries.”

Answering questions after the lecture, Mr Brown described as “a good thing” the “dose-sharing” that the G7 leaders had agreed, whereby excess doses would be passed on to poorer countries.

“But it adds up to less than a billion doses, and we need to plan for 11 billion. So you’re only dealing with a fraction of the problem. And yet the richest countries could have come up with the money that would have vaccinated the whole world. In other words, they put up $5 billion. The whole vaccination and the protection programme — which includes testing and, also, of course, equipment like protective equipment — costs about $50 billion. So, they came far short of what most people who know what needs to be done are doing.

“And that’s a huge failure; it’s a moral failure, because here you’re faced with ethical issues about who is going to live and who is going to die. The people who are not going to be vaccinated have got a real risk of dying. You’ve got health workers in Africa who are not being vaccinated and won’t be for months. You’ve got the vulnerable in every continent who are not being vaccinated.

“So this summit is choosing who lives and who dies, and I can’t go away with anything other than saying this is a moral lapse. It’s a failure. A million people are dying every three months, and we could have stopped that far more quickly than we’re going to be able to do.”

The G7 meeting, held in Cornwall over the weekend (News, 11 June), “should have been the launchpad for an era of international co-operation”, Mr Brown said in the lecture.

The agreement before the summit by G7 finance ministers to set a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15 per cent was not adequate, he said, to ensure that money siphoned off in tax havens was made available to pay for health, education, and public services.

Mr Brown also reiterated his opposition to the Government’s cutting of the international-aid budget (News, 11 June), which was leading to “cuts in the programmes that are so brutal as pulling away the needle from a child whose life could be saved”.

During the lecture, Mr Brown said that the pandemic had shown that it was wrong to view government as the problem, not the solution. “When the Government became lender of last resort, insurer of last resort for millions of people, employer of last resort with the furlough, the market-maker of last resort, nobody can say any more ‘You can’t buck the market.’

“We found that markets need morals; that markets may be free, but they cannot be values-free, and thus that markets have to be servants and not masters; and that what we decide to do together collectively as a national community, and the values that we impose on the market, are far more important than relying on market forces alone.”

The pandemic, he said, had raised wider questions about how the planet was managed. “Why, in the year 2021, we can’t come together to prevent economic crisis, halt climate change, stop the new nuclear arms race, deliver the sustainable development goals which the whole world signed up to . . .

“Like the pandemic, they are global problems that need global solutions. None can be saved by a single country, group, or individual, however powerful or rich, acting on their own. And yet there is a fundamental mismatch . . . between the global nature of these shared challenges . . . and the primarily national approach within which we’ve organised ourselves to confront them.”

Four international events this year would provide an opportunity “to begin to unwind the protectionism of the past decade and reactivate the international solidarity and co-operation we need”, he said: the G7 leaders’ meeting; the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in November; the UN General Assembly in September, “which is the chance to renew progress on the sustainable development goals”; and the G20 meeting at the end of October.

Mr Brown, the son of a Church of Scotland minister, also spoke of the importance of faith. Critics of religion, he said, “say that this consolation and comfort is all that religion can do to help us deal with suffering. . .

“But religion offers us who have come face to face with unexpected tragedy more than consolation, more than comfort. It builds a sense of community, and it also inspires us to resist worldly trends towards selfish individualism. We are part of a community of believers, and that community is part of us.”

He continued: “More than that, faith gives us the courage to pursue what we believe in. . . Without moral courage — that is, to stand firm for your beliefs and to have the willpower to see things through — you will not achieve your aims. And, in our generation, it is the courage to stand up against worldly trends towards selfish individualism that can change our society for good.”

The Methodist Justice Lecture marked the launch of a two-year project, Walking with Micah: Methodist Principles for Social Justice, which seeks to help the Methodist Church to explore what it means to be a justice-seeking Church.

Watch Gordon Brown’s lecture and Q&A here.

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