WITH AN unnecessary own goal, the EU has finally given Brexit supporters a boost.

How the EU is behaving over the Covid vaccine has to be a concern for all who hoped it would play fair over trade rules. Instead it is clear self-interest will prevail. This is an omen for exporters seeking to trade in markets they have been in for many years.

The vaccine mess confirms that collective action for 27 member states is not a guaranteed road to success. It highlights a cumbersome decision making process and the impossibility of coordinating decisions for countries with very different health needs and systems.

The EU was slow to act when it came to ordering vaccines and it has been even slower in its regulatory processes. Its approval approach for the AstraZeneca vaccine is to the disadvantage of its citizens, when it could have rubber stamped the UK regulator's decision. Now with no case and no hope of success against commercial companies, it is behaving as a bully to get its own way. It has surrendered the moral high-ground and handed Brexit supporters a trump card when the run of play was against them.

This will pass, but the wider problems will remain. It is unlikely the EU will learn the lesson that centralising decisions is not always the right approach. What is not in doubt is the strength of its single market and its determination to protect that at all costs. Its good intentions were to prevent the bigger countries of the EU with financial muscle using that to grab supplies of vaccines. It believes wide protection is the best way to free up travel restrictions within the bloc. But the words that must set alarm bells ringing were that the EU would do 'whatever it takes to protect its citizens'.

That is a dangerous omen. Put another way it means Brussels will tear up the rule book, using protection of its citizens as a justification. This is little different to the threat from Boris Johnson, which the EU harshly criticised, to alter the rules around trade with Northern Ireland within the Withdrawal Agreement. Go a few months down the road and the target could be Scotch beef or lamb, when French farmers decide their market would be better without competition. All they need to do is claim that not every EU regulation has been fully met to play the 'protect our citizens' card. The vaccine issue is more serious, but the principle is the same. It is about self-interest and protectionism, whether it is a health or a single market issue.

All deals are a snapshot in time, because they are based on conditions when the deal was signed and another issue for Scottish agriculture has raised its head in Brussels. This is around the future of the geographical indication schemes. Scotland has done well with these, reflecting a culinary heritage and the success of the industry in being quick off the mark to get products registered. PGI products range from Arbroath Smokies through salmon to beef and lamb and of course whisky. The existing EU scheme, which covers almost 3400 products, was rolled over into the UK when Brexit happened. The scheme remains the same and products are still protected and able to use the internationally recognised EU term.

The EU has now gone out to consultation on how it might strengthen its scheme. That would not cover any new UK products, which could not enter the EU process to secure approval. This has to raise questions about what the industry in the UK can do to drive its scheme on to at least match any new EU approach. This also raises the question of whether the PGI term will have the same kudos, if schemes here are not linked to any new approach the EU develops.

This is just a very small part of the complex web of global trade deals and since Brexit became real on January 1, there has been less bluster about these. This is partly because it is now clear the one Boris Johnson really wants, as proof that Brexit can deliver, would be with the United States. The new Biden administration is far from enthusiastic about speedy progress – to the degree that it is even possible there could be an EU/US deal before one between London and Washington. Brexit remains a challenge and one vaccine row does not a summer make for Brexiteers.