Coronavirus: Downing Street tried to have Oxford vaccine branded with Union flag

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
@andywoodcock
Friday 27 November 2020 14:26
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Downing Street officials attempted to have doses of the Oxford University coronavirus vaccine branded with the Union Jack, it has emerged.

The request came from No 10’s newly-formed “Union unit”, which has been given the job of countering calls for Scottish independence and other campaigns to break up the United Kingdom.

Prime minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman did not deny a report on the HuffPost UK website that the unit had approached the government’s vaccine task force with a request for the flag to be included on the packaging of the potentially life-saving jab.

Asked if any such idea had been put forward by Downing Street officials, the spokesman said only: “There are no plans for the Union Jack to be on doses.

“Manufacturing for some of the leading potential vaccines is already underway so they can be rolled out quickly if and when approved.

“Manufacturers are well-versed in the best way to package products like this.”

And asked if he could deny that the Union unit attempted to secure the inclusion of the red-white-and-blue flag, he said: “I’m setting out for you that there is no plan to do so.”

The Union flag has been a symbol of the United Kingdom since 1801 and is viewed by some Conservatives as a potent tool in the fight against the break-up of the UK.

Cabinet ministers Matt Hancock and Alok Sharma were reported to have backed proposals for it to be included on packaging for the Oxford vaccine, developed by the university along with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

The vaccine is the most prominent UK-developed pharmaceutical in the fight against Covid-19, and is likely to be administered around the world if approved as safe and effective.

The proposed inclusion of the flag may have been seen as a way of promoting the government’s “global Britain” message.

A Scottish National Party spokesperson said: “If true, these reports suggest utter desperation from the Tories.

"The creation of a vaccine is a global effort with scientists and countries coming together to share their expertise to tackle Covid-19.

"Politicians of all kinds should be focussed on getting the vaccine to the right people at the right time."

 

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