UK confident of COVID vaccinations after securing EU guarantees

Elizabeth Piper
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: British trade minister Liz Truss speaks to Reuters after signing a free trade agreement with Singapore, in Singapore

By Elizabeth Piper

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain is confident its COVID-19 vaccination programme is secure after receiving guarantees from the European Union, the trade minister said on Sunday, trying to smooth over a row about supplies.

Just a month after Britain completed its departure from the bloc, ties with Brussels were severely tested on Friday when the EU's plan for export controls on vaccines included triggering an emergency clause in the earlier Brexit deals.

The move, which was quickly reversed, united Britain's politicians in criticism of the EU's threat to create a hard border it has long said it wanted to avoid between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

"We know that that supply is secure, we're absolutely confident that we can continue to deliver our programme. We have received reassurance from the European Union that those contracts won't be disrupted," Liz Truss told Sky News.

With the dispute suggesting lingering mistrust between the two sides from Brexit, Truss said she was pleased the EU had admitted its "mistake".

She added pointedly: "It's vital we work together, it's vital we keep borders open, we resist vaccine nationalism and we resist protectionism."

'HELP OTHERS'

Truss did not rule out offering any excess supply to other nations, but only once Britain had vaccinated its population.

"In fact, in future months we hope to be in a position to help other countries with vaccine supply, including our friends and neighbours but also the developing world," she told Times Radio.

The EU has fallen far behind Britain and the United States in vaccinations. It announced on Friday it would impose export controls on vaccines, widely seen as a threat to prevent doses from being sent to Britain.

But it was forced to reverse part of the announcement within hours, after both Britain and Ireland complained about plans to impose emergency export controls for vaccines across the land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that lessons needed to be learned from the row, which he believed stemmed from a dispute between the European Commission and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.

"My observation is that the terrible row – it's an acrimonious row between AstraZeneca and the Commission over the contractual obligations of the company in respect of supplying vaccines to European member states – took centre stage here," he said.

"I think there was shock across Europe when (there was) the original commitment from the company in terms of 100 million doses, (then) it emerged it was not going to be realised and that caused a lot of tension."

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Catherine Evans and Andrew Cawthorne)