LONDON: Britain expects its contractual arrangements on coronavirus vaccines to be honoured following disagreements with the EU over supplies of the shot, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said on Saturday.
Following a u-turn by the European Commission over threats on Friday to stop the free-flow of vaccines over the Irish border, Gove said Britain was “confident” its supplies of vaccines would be delivered.
“We’ve entered into contractual arrangements with AstraZeneca and Pfizer, we expect those arrangements to be honoured,” the minister said.
He added that after exchanges with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was “clear that she understood exactly the UK government’s position”.
Gove said the European Union made a mistake when it threatened to invoke Article 16 of the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol to monitor and in some cases block exports of vaccines produced in EU plants.
“They recognise that they have made a mistake,” he said. “We want to work with our friends and neighbours in the European Union. We recognise some of the difficulties and the pressures that they face,” Gove added.
Johnson held conversations late on Friday with Von der Leyen as the row over shortages of a Covid-19 vaccine developed by the British-Swedish drugs group AstraZeneca threatened to boil over.
British foreign minister Dominic Raab wrote on Twitter on Saturday that during conversations with EU Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovkis he had been “reassured the EU has no desire to block suppliers fulfilling contracts for vaccine distribution to the UK”.
“The world is watching and it is only through international collaboration that we will beat this pandemic,” he added.
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Forster on Saturday urged Britain to remove a post-Brexit protocol with the European Union after it became the focus of a diplomatic row over Covid vaccines.
“The protocol is unworkable, let’s be very clear about that, and we need to see it replaced because otherwise there is going to be real difficulties here in Northern Ireland,” Foster told BBC radio. The leader of the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party has long been critical of the protocol which allows Northern Ireland to follow EU customs rules and avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
“It’s absolutely disgraceful, and I have to say the Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) now needs to act very quickly to deal with the real trade flows that are being disrupted between Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” she added.
“The Commission will ensure that the Ireland / Northern Ireland Protocol is unaffected,” the EU Commissioner said in a statement.