The UK government has said that it is “confident” its inoculation programme is secure after receiving guarantees from the European Union.
International trade secretary Liz Truss said that the bloc guaranteed there will be no disruption to Pfizer (PFE) vaccines being supplied to Britain despite the continent’s threat of export controls on jabs produced within EU member states.
Speaking on whether she could assure that there would be no disturbance to the Belgium-made Pfizer jab, Truss said: "Yes, I can. The prime minister has spoken to the president of the European Commission, she has assured him that there will be no disruption of contracts that we have with any producer in the EU."
In an effort to smooth over a row over vaccine supplies, Truss said she was pleased the EU had admitted its “mistake” and it was time for the pair to work together.
While she didn’t rule out giving any excess supply to other countries, she did say that can only happen once the UK had vaccinated the most vulnerable in the country.
It comes as ties with Brussels were severely tested on Friday when the EU’s plan for export controls on vaccines saw them trigger emergency Brexit powers.
But, the EU quickly reversed its move to control the export of COVID-19 jabs into Northern Ireland (NI) following widespread condemnation from the UK, NI and Ireland.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson spoke to European Commission (EC) chief Ursula von der Leyen after the clause was triggered, a spokesman said. "He expressed his grave concerns about the potential impact which the steps the EU has taken today on vaccine exports could have."
Following the call with the PM, the EC chief tweeted that the pair had "agreed on the principle that there should not be restrictions on the export of vaccines by companies where they are fulfilling contractual responsibilities.”
The Brexit agreement between the bloc and the UK ensures an open border, with no controls on exported products between the EU and Northern Ireland.
But, Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol part of the deal permits the EU and UK to choose to suspend any aspects they consider are causing "economic, societal or environmental difficulties.”
The controversy also came amid a row between the EU and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca (AZN.L) over delays in deliveries of vaccine doses to the 27 member nations.
AstraZeneca agreed to publish its COVID-19 contract with the EU, following pressure from von der Leyen.
While the EC welcomed the company’s “transparency” key issues remain over the “best reasonable effort” clause in the contract, which was published with large redacted sections.
AstraZeneca says the clause is not binding on the numbers of vaccines, but rather on best efforts. However the EU says it’s binding.
As a result, the bloc has asked the pharmaceutical firm to send some doses manufactured in Britain to the continent to make up the shortfall, but AstraZeneca says this would breach its contract with the UK.
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