A tale of two countries. First, the United Kingdom:

A FOUR-STAGE plan could see England’s coronavirus restrictions completely lifted by 21 June, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced.

And now, the place that was once part of the United Kingdom, and where at least one writer for a website you are currently reading is wondering whether they’d consider taking us back:

LEVEL 5 RESTRICTIONS are to remain in place until at least 5 April, at which point they will be reviewed, the Cabinet Covid-19 sub-committee has agreed.

The sub-committee met this evening ahead of the publication of the government’s updated Living with Covid plan this week.

“We’re on a one way road to freedom”, Boris Johnson extolled yesterday, as he announced his grand plan to see the UK return to normal. How did they get there, while we’re stuck in Lockdown purgatory?

The answer, in truth, (though it will be a very unpopular truth) is…. Brexit.

Not being in the European Union allowed the UK the freedom to set its own vaccine policy. Well, that’s not entirely true – Britain could still have signed up to the EU’s vaccine scheme, and was offered the chance to do so. But when you’ve just Brexited, signing up to an EU scheme would have been unpopular amongst the kind of Brexity voter who elected Boris Johnson in the first place, so they passed. At the time, you probably don’t recall, the UK Government was criticised for it. Going it alone, they were told, would be expensive, and risky. Why take the risk when they could sign up to the EU’s death-star sized vaccine super-scheme?

Well, who’s laughing now?

By doing their own vaccine deal, the UK is in a position where it has vaccinated almost a third of its entire population. You can read Gary Kavanagh’s daily vaccine updates here on Gript to see how Ireland is doing by comparison. Spoiler: It ain’t good.

The only question now, after a stuttering, failing start on Ireland’s behalf, is whether, and how fast, we can catch up. The difference, in all probability, will be two or three months. Not a huge difference in the entire scheme of things, until you remember that two or three months basically equates to…. summer. These islands of ours are not, of course, renowned for their summers, but if there happens to be a half decent one on a Tuesday in July, then the Brits will be much more free to enjoy it than we will.

The consequences of this failure, though, are much greater than simply you and I missing our annual waddle around a beach. 160,000 jobs in the hospitality sector may be gone, at least semi permanently. Thousands of businesses, having hung on, and hung on, and hung on, are now facing permanent extinction. Lockdown in Ireland is increasingly a case – to use an Americanism – of Charlie Brown and the football. Every time you think the worst is over, in steps the cabinet, to administer another beating. At least they’re getting that pay rise.

In the meantime, there’s at least another seven weeks before some normal, everyday, essential businesses are permitted to re-open. Construction remains paused. Many retail outlets remain shuttered (and, every day, lose more and more customers to Amazon).

All of this is a catastrophic political failure. It’s tempting, of course, to say “oh, it’s only a few months more”. That’s the optimistic take. The problem is that for many businesses and jobs, three more months is the difference between survival and extinction. In the battle to come out of the pandemic with a functional, viable economy, the UK is three months ahead – but it might as well be light years ahead.

There really should be, when all this is done, a full enquiry into how the vaccine process was so messed up, and what steps the Government could and should have taken to avoid getting to this point. Why, for example, did they not opt out of the EU programme weeks ago, when they had the chance, and source vaccines independently? Why were 1,500 Brazilians allowed to enter the country in January, when Irish people were banned from travelling?

There won’t be, of course. When all of this is over, there’ll be a national back-patting exercise on behalf of the Government, and the media. All the while, hundreds of thousands of people – like Gary Dempsey – will be left to survey the wreckage of their lives. It’s not good enough.