No10 'confident' over Covid vaccine supplies despite EU row, Michael Gove says

30 January 2021, 17:04 | Updated: 30 January 2021, 22:22

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

No10 is "confident" Covid vaccine supplies will reach the UK as planned despite the EU's bitter row with AstraZeneca and its Article 16 U-turn, Michael Gove has said.

The Cabinet Office minister told reporters on Saturday that coronavirus jabs from Pfizer and AstraZeneca are expected to be given to the UK, meaning the country's vaccination programme can continue on its course.

Mr Gove said it was made clear between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen that jab supplies would not be interrupted.

It comes despite the bloc's export controls and demands for British-manufactured jabs.

The minister said: "We're confident that we can proceed with our vaccine programmes exactly as planned.

"Last night the prime minister talked to President von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, and made clear that we need to have the contracts that have been entered into honoured properly.

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"And it was made clear that that supply would not be interrupted so we can proceed with our plans and make sure that our so far highly-successful vaccination programme can continue."

Mr Gove added: "We're confident, we have assurances, that the supply that we have procured, the supply that we have paid for, is going to be delivered."

The Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster also said the bloc recognises it "made a mistake" in its short-lived but widely-condemned move to override part of the Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland.

Continuing down that path would have prevented vaccine shipments reaching the UK, in a move that risked imposing a hard border with the republic.

EU chiefs backtracked following condemnation from London, Dublin and Belfast, with leaders all caught out by the earlier decision as the bloc is embroiled in a row with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca over shortfalls in the delivery of jabs.

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"I think the European Union recognises that they made a mistake in triggering Article 16 which would've meant the reimposition of a border on the island of Ireland," Mr Gove said.

"But now the European Union has stepped back.

"I've spoken to the European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic about this and we both agreed that we need a reset, that we need to put the people of Northern Ireland first."

After their call, Messieurs Gove and Sefcovic tweeted that their "shared priority is making sure the Protocol works for the people of Northern Ireland, protecting gains of the peace process and avoiding disruption to everyday lives".

Despite criticism from the World Health Organisation, the EU is going ahead with plans to impose controls on vaccines manufactured within member states, which it is feared could hinder the UK's access to further supplies, particularly to the Belgian-made Pfizer jab.

To solve its supply shortage issues, Brussels has also demanded access to doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured in British plants, as member states have been forced to pause or delay their rollouts.

But on Saturday, Mr Gove told reporters: "The prime minister was very clear, we've entered into contractual arrangements with AstraZeneca and Pfizer and we expect those arrangements to be honoured.

"And President von der Leyen was clear that she understood exactly the UK Government's position, so we expect that those contracts will be honoured, we expect that vaccines will continue to be supplied."

He welcomed that the EU "has stepped back" from the move, which Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster described as an "incredible act of hostility".

Mr Gove said the government is "fully on course" to hit its target of vaccinating the 15 million most vulnerable individuals in the UK by mid-February, as official data showed 8,378,940 had received first doses.

However, the increase of 487,756 first doses came as ministers announced a further 1,200 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Saturday, bringing the official UK total to 105,571.

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