Jeremy Hunt tells LBC the EU made a 'catastrophic misstep' over Article 16 U-turn

31 January 2021, 11:18 | Updated: 31 January 2021, 13:32

By Maddie Goodfellow

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has told LBC the EU made a "catastrophic misstep" with its short-lived move to override part of the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland over export controls on coronavirus vaccines.

Speaking to Tom Swarbrick on LBC, Mr Hunt said: "I think the EU made a catastrophic misstep, but I'm very relieved it has been sorted out.

"The reality is, the battle this year, which realistically very few of us would have predicted a few months ago, is against new variants of the virus.

"And we are in a race at the moment to see whether we can vaccinate enough people to get transmission really low and before we get a variant that is immune to the vaccine.

"And the one thing you need in that context is international collaboration and cooperation, because we don't know where the next variant is going to come from. So we've got to be working closely."

Jeremy Hunt spoke with Tom Swarbrick on LBC
Jeremy Hunt spoke with Tom Swarbrick on LBC. Picture: LBC

It comes after the EU said on Saturday it recognised "it made a mistake" after attempting to put controls on vaccine exports to Ireland.

On Friday, the EU made a U-turn and said it will not override part of the Brexit deal after widespread condemnation of its move to trigger Article 16 as part of its export controls on coronavirus vaccines.

The EU backtracked on the move after condemnation from London, Dublin and Belfast, with leaders all blindsided by the decision to trigger Article 16 of the protocol as the European bloc is embroiled in a row with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca over shortfalls in the delivery of jabs.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said the bloc has acknowledged it made a mistake and agreed a "reset" on relations is needed.

The EU has been criticised over the move
The EU has been criticised over the move. Picture: PA

Also speaking with Tom Swarbrick on LBC, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said: "I am very pleased the EU have said it was a mistake to invoke Article 16 and have rowed back from that because it is important for communities across Ireland to have that assurance.

"The Prime Minister has had confirmation the supply of vaccines into the UK won't be affected, so we are absolutely confident we can deliver our vaccine programme.

"In broader terms, free and fair trade is very important in coronavirus, this is a global problem that needs global solutions.

"We should be cooperating and working with friends and partners to make sure the whole world has access to the vaccine."

And Nils Torvalds, MEP for the Swedish People's Party of Finland told Tom that the way the EU acted was "foolish".

"To be frank, it is a foolish way to address issues, it was stupid," he said.

"It has to be labelled stupid, and we need to go back to where it started, which is the contracts with the different providers.

"Lawyers who wrote these up probably did not think about the politics of these contracts. That's where this conundrum starts.

"There is logic in first come first served, Britain came up with money up front, so they are the first in line."

Asked by Tom about the calls for Ursula von der Leyen to resign, Mr Torvalds said: "In the best of cases, we will sit down with her and have a frank discussion. I don't know if it would help to wave the resignation flag though.

"It would make it even harder to find pragmatic solutions."