Ursula von der Leyen – Britain is ready to help the EU fix its jab supply issues, says vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi
Britain will help the EU fix its jab supply issue, vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi has revealed.
After Brussels backed down on its threat to block vaccine supplies at the border, Mr Zahawi said the focus has moved to ‘collaboration’ with the EU, reported The Sunday Telegraph.
The EU promised to allow supplies from Pfizer‘s Belgium factory to reach the UK and brought an end to escalating tensions on Saturday.
During two phone calls just 30 minutes apart, the Prime Minister made European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen abandon the ‘nuclear option’ of imposing a hard border on Northern Ireland to prevent them reaching the UK.
A six-page document was allegedly prepared as the crisis developed, including options such as abandoning food checks and threats of legal action against the European Commission.
Britain yesterday recorded a daily record for first-dose jabs – 487,756 – to bring the total to almost 8.4 million.
After Brussels backed down on its threat to block vaccine supplies at the border, vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi said the focus has moved to ‘collaboration’ with the EU
Airlifts to protect Britain’s vaccine supply in the event of a blockade were allegedly also on the table.
A government source told the paper: ‘There were a variety of things set out that were not needed. Things moved very rapidly. There was a paper drawn up with actions to respond, but thankfully it all got stood down.’
The Prime Minister, his chief of staff Dan Rosenfeld, Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, Lord Frost, Mr Johnson’s former Brexit adviser, and Oliver Lewis, a policy adviser, met for emergency talks in the Cabinet Room in Number 10 on Friday night.
During two phone calls just 30 minutes apart, the Prime Minister made European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (pictured) abandon the ‘nuclear option’ of imposing a hard border on Northern Ireland to prevent them reaching the UK
A senior source said: ‘There was a conversation around “if we need to do something in response, what should it be?”‘
Even the White House threatened to get involved, with the paper reporting a team spent Friday night looking for clarity on the EU’s export controls. President Joe Biden‘s team were concerned about how restrictions could affect the US.
Bit it was made clear on Saturday that Number 10 now wants to move on from the fiasco, with a source saying: ‘We have to now take it at face value that they are going to let the vaccine through, and we will work on that basis.’
Mr Zahawi said the UK had sent engineers to the Halix plant in the Netherlands to help with supply problems last month, and that there would be a continued tone of ‘collaboration’ with the bloc.
Yesterday, the EU agreed to reset its relations with Northern Ireland ‘to put the people first’ after it backed down from its decision to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, according to Michael Gove.
UK is ahead of all other European countries in giving doses of the coronavirus vaccine
The Cabinet Office minister said the union had ‘recognised they made a mistake’ in pursuing Article 16 – which allows the EU and UK to choose to suspend any aspects they consider to be causing ‘economic, societal or environmental difficulties’.
The bloc faced condemnation for the action from London, Dublin and Belfast as it came amid a deepening dispute over delays to the production and distribution of the coronavirus vaccine across Europe.
Gove said: ‘I think the European Union recognises that they made a mistake in triggering Article 16 which would’ve meant the reimposition of a border on the island of Ireland. But now the European Union has stepped back.
A vaccine postcode lottery means that while 84 per cent of over-80s have been immunised in the North East and Yorkshire, this is lower at 78 per cent in the South East and only 65 per cent in London. Pictured: People queue in the rain at a vaccination centre in Folkestone, Kent
‘I’ve spoken to the European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic about this and we both agreed that we need a reset, that we need to put the people of Northern Ireland first.’
It comes after Brussels backed down from plans to impose export controls on vaccines that threatened the shipment of 3.5million Pfizer doses to Britain.
Ms von der Leyen made the assurance to Boris Johnson after announcing an extraordinary embargo on jabs leaving the bloc amid dwindling supplies on the Continent.
The row blew up spectacularly when Eurocrats overrode part of the Brexit deal to create a hard border on the island of Ireland to stop doses getting into the UK through Northern Ireland, which is still in the Customs Union.
The move blindsided the governments of London, Dublin and Belfast whose collective outrage forced a humbling climbdown and clarification from the EU it did not intent to trigger the incendiary Article 16.
And the EU has now rowed back yet further and scrapped its export ban for the UK entirely following a phone call between Ms von der Leyen and the Prime Minister.
Gove said the EU ‘recognises they made a mistake’ and ‘stepped back’ following the conversation between the two leaders.
He said: ‘We’re confident, we have assurances, that the supply that we have procured, the supply that we have paid for, is going to be delivered.’
Downing Street said it did not intend to dwell on the night of high drama but politicians in Britain are furious with the EU’s behaviour.
Former Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said the attempt to halt the free flow of goods on vaccine exports on the island of Ireland with scant awareness of the sensitivities was an ‘almost Trumpian act’.
The Tory MP added: ‘The EU cocked up big time last night, but we all need to work in the interest of preserving Northern Ireland. It is not just a backdoor for goods going to Britain, it is a very sensitive place and we have a duty between the EU and UK to ensure there is no hard border.’
Stormont’s first minister Arlene Foster called the move an ‘incredible act of hostility’ and said the rift emanated from the ‘EU’s vaccine embarrassment and mismanagement’.
While Britain has already inoculated 11 per cent of its population, the rollout on the Continent has been blighted by supply issues and the EU has demanded UK doses are instead diverted to the bloc.
French President Emmanuel Macron poured petrol on the rift when he baselessly claimed there was no evidence the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot worked in over-65s, despite it gaining approval from the EU regulator.
So far the UK has placed orders for 367million doses of the seven most promising Covid vaccines — made by AstraZeneca , Pfizer , Moderna, Valneva, Janssen, GlaxoSmithKline and Novavax — at a cost of £2.9billion
Michel Barnier, who was the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator in the trade deal struck only 29 days ago, tried to cool tensions and appealed for ‘cooperation’.
Ms von der Leyen tweeted: ‘Constructive talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson tonight.
‘We agreed on the principle that there should not be restrictions on the export of vaccines by companies where they are fulfilling contractual responsibilities.’