Coronavirus: Boris Johnson rejects place on EU’s vaccine scheme

‘The government walking away from this EU deal just smacks of ideological dogma’

Rob Merrick
Deputy political editor
Friday 10 July 2020 19:37 BST
Coronavirus in numbers

Boris Johnson has sparked accusations of putting Brexit before health by rejecting an invitation to join an EU scheme to procure a coronavirus vaccine.

The UK told Brussels on Friday that it fears signing up would risk a delay before people in Britain could receive a vaccine in the quantities needed.

Ministers have concerns about a cap on the number of doses allocated to each member state – and will argue that pharmaceutical companies are offering the UK similar prices to EU countries anyway.

However, a committee of MPs revealed this week that participation was threatened by the UK’s refusal to pay increased budget contributions to Brussels during 2020.

And the move will be seen by some as a gamble that will backfire if the EU secures access to a successful vaccine which is then denied to the UK.

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat leadership contender, said: “The government walking away from this EU deal just smacks of ideological dogma.

“Working together would help drive down costs and make sure we get value for money. For this government, it’s Brexit over vaccines.”

The rejection also follows criticism that the government “put Brexit before breathing” by failing to join the EU’s ventilator and personal protective equipment schemes in March.

The UK has the right to join procurement programmes during the Brexit transition period, potentially benefiting from lower prices through the EU’s collective purchasing power.

The government can point to a bilateral deal already secured with AstraZeneca in partnership with Oxford University, but there is no guarantee that its vaccine trial will be effective.

The Wellcome Trust research trust was among institutions to have expressed support for the EU’s collective drive to achieve a vaccine, rather than a go-it-alone approach.

Alex Harris, the trust’s head of global policy, said last month: “We applaud the EU for agreeing to work together to accelerate the development and deployment of vaccines against Covid-19. This is not just a European challenge but a global one.”

Ministers will reject accusations of putting Brexit ideology ahead of the national interest by insisting that the decision was taken on advice of the risks of delays.

Under a joint deal, member states are required to hand over “live” negotiations with producers to the commission, which then decides how a successful vaccine should be distributed.

Alok Sharma, the business secretary, is believed to have failed to win sufficient assurances over the quantity and timing of a vaccine reaching the UK.

Brussels has increased its 2020 budget by more than €4bn for various coronavirus-related schemes, of which €2.7bn (£2.4bn) is primarily to secure a vaccine.

But the UK argued the budget was agreed only after it had left the EU, so it was “not obliged to pay towards it under the terms of the withdrawal agreement”.

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