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Tue, 20 October 2020

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UK confirms it won’t join EU coronavirus vaccine scheme amid concern over lack of say

UK confirms it won’t join EU coronavirus vaccine scheme amid concern over lack of say

The EU-wide programme aims to ensure member states have access to any vaccine that is developed (PA)

3 min read

The UK government has told the European Union it will not take part in the bloc’s bid to secure a coronavirus vaccine.

A letter from the UK’s ambassador to Brussels, Sir Tim Barrow, said Britain “has decided on this occasion not to join” the initiative aimed at driving down the cost of buying doses across the bloc.

But the top diplomat insisted Britain remained determined to “strengthen” its working with the EU in the fight against Covid-19.

The rejection of the union’s plan follows talks with the European Commission over potential British use of the €2.7bn emergency fund which aimed to strike advance purchase agreements with drug companies working on potential vaccine candidates.

Britain was eligible to take part in the scheme because it remains in a one-year transition period with the EU following Brexit.

But, in his letter to the Commission, Sir Tim laid out the UK’s objections to taking part in the programme.

The ambassador said the EU had “confirmed that it is not possible for the UK to pursue parallel negotiations with potential vaccine suppliers, meaning the UK would be required to stop its
negotiations with manufacturers with which the EU launched negotiations”.

He added: “The Commission has also confirmed that it is not possible for the UK to have a role in the governance shaping decisions on which manufacturers to negotiate with, or the price, volume and delivery schedule negotiated.”

Therefore, Sir Tim said, the UK government “has decided on this occasion not to join this internal EU initiative, but given our shared interest in ensuring that vaccines are available to all, we are committed to strengthening our collaboration with the EU outside the framework”.

Earlier on Friday, Downing Street flatly denied that anti-EU sentiment had played any part in the UK’s decision not to take part in the scheme, saying any move would be made in the “national interest”.

The UK has already launched its own Vaccines Task Force, with a vaccine partnership between Oxford University and pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca beginning human trials in May.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma claimed in May that the tie-up could see around half of the UK’s population given access to a vaccine candidate — Chaddox 1 — proves effective.

But the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats condemned the UK’s move, with health spokesperson Munira Wilson saying: “When coronavirus is such a threat to people’s lives and livelihoods, minister should leave no stone unturned in their bid to end the pandemic.   

“This Government's stubborn unwillingness to work with the European Union through the current crisis is unforgivable. 

“The crisis does not stop at any national border. It is about time the Prime Minister started showing leadership, including fully participating in all EU efforts to secure critical medical supplies and a vaccine.”

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