The UK is reportedly now in urgent talks to join an EU plan that could fast-track the supply of a coronavirus vaccine when it becomes ready.
The EU has proposed using a ‘large majority’ of a €2.7bn emergency fund for the effort but is also committed to ensuring fair access worldwide to pandemic remedies.
It is reported that it is looking to buy six potential vaccines in deals in advance where the makers would commit to providing doses when and if they become available, as long as they are not produced solely in America.
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The UK government is now assessing whether or not to join the scheme, having originally ruled out due to its desire to sever ties with Brussels, the Financial Times reports.
Following claims from Dominic Raab an e-mail issue prevented the government joining previous EU schemes for tackling coronavirus, the European Commission has reportedly continued to reach out to Boris Johnson’s government with its offer for joining the vaccine scheme.
‘We have reached out to the UK, inviting it to express its interest if it wants to participate in the joint EU approach established by the vaccine strategy,’ a spokesperson said. ‘Discussions are now ongoing with the UK.’
A Downing Street said ‘work is ongoing to determine whether and how the UK participates in the EU vaccines strategy’, with another official saying it is ‘open to it’.
One Whitehall official said: ‘The EU has set an ‘end of the week’ deadline, for about the last three weeks but it keeps coming and going,’ the source said. ‘Ultimately, the decision will get made in Number 10.’
Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs and Brexit spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said the idea was a no-brainer.
He said: ‘When it comes to saving lives, there should be no mulling to do. Joining the EU’s coronavirus vaccine scheme is not about the old arguments of Brexit. It is simply the right thing to do.
‘It is all very well Boris Johnson claiming he regrets the loss of life but if he then refuses to do something because of politics then his regret is worth nothing more than a bucket of cold sick.
‘The prime minister must put ideology aside and commit to participating immediately.’
Layla Moran MP, who wrote to health secretary Matt Hancock last week urging him to join the scheme, added: ‘The government must put people’s lives before politics and join the EU’s vaccine scheme. It would be absolutely unforgivable if Number 10’s preoccupation with Brexit meant the the NHS missed out on the benefits of this initiative, include securing bulk supplies at a lower price.
‘At a time when Donald Trump is trying to hoard precious medical supplies in the fight against coronavirus, the UK and its European neighbours should be sticking together.
‘Opportunities have already been missed to take part in vital EU schemes that could have helped the NHS combat this pandemic. We cannot afford to make the same mistakes again.’