Covid: EU and UK ‘reset’ relations after NI vaccine row



The UK and European Union will “reset” relations after Brussels triggered a provision in the Brexit deal to control vaccine exports, the Cabinet Office minister has said.

Ministers said they are confident that the EU will not block vaccines entering the UK.

It comes after Brussels reversed its widely-condemned decision which could have seen checks at the Irish border.

Michael Gove added the European Commission recognised its “mistake”.

He said he had spoken with European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič and the pair had agreed to put the people of Northern Ireland first.

Mr Gove said the UK was “on track” to deliver 15 million jabs by 15 February, adding that the UK’s programme would continue as planned.

And Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he was “reassured the EU has no desire to block suppliers fulfilling contracts for vaccine distribution to the UK” following discussions with European Commission executive vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis.

The UK government says it is “committed to supporting equitable access to vaccines worldwide” but it is too early to formally talk about donating some of its vaccine supplies to other countries.

But a government spokesperson added: “This pandemic is a global challenge and international collaboration on vaccine development and production continues to be an integral part of our response.”

The EU’s threat of border controls came amid a deepening dispute over delays to the production and distribution of Covid vaccines across the continent.

The bloc is introducing a so-called transparency mechanism, which gives countries in the bloc powers to deny authorisation for vaccine exports if the company making them has not honoured existing contracts with the EU.

The EU’s attempt to apply measures to the Irish border was widely-condemned, and the heads of the UK- and Europe-wide industry bodies have warned against export bans.

“Companies are working as fast as they can to protect everyone. Export restrictions do no one any good and we urge governments to avoid them,” Richard Torbett, head of the UK’s Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, and Nathalie Moll, head of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, wrote in the Observer.

The EU has insisted that its controls are a temporary scheme, and not an export ban.

It comes as the World Health Organization said “vaccine nationalism” could prolong the pandemic and further widen global inequality.