A European Commission spokesman hit out at claims Britain would not be able to support domestic programmes searching for drugs to inoculate the population. The spat comes as Sir Tim Barrow, the UK’s ambassador to Brussels, confirmed Boris Johnson’s Government had decided against joining the EU’s efforts to negotiate with pharmaceutical firms in a bid to find a vaccine. The Government is said to have shunned joining the EU scheme amid fears over being left at the back of the queue behind member states when a vaccine is eventually found and distributed.
Ministers also expressed fears membership of the scheme would “complicate” the UK’s efforts to secure a vaccine.
But a Commission spokesman hit back, insisting claims were “not true and misleading”.
“We always promote all means that would result in the quick finding and production that would result in the quick finding and production of a successful vaccine.”
In a letter to the Commission confirming the snub, Sir Tim wrote: “I welcome the constructive approach to discussions between our respective teams over the last weeks to understand what UK participation in this scheme would look like, in line with both the terms of the agreement reached by participating Member States to shape this initiative, and the relevant provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement.
“The Commission has responded positively to our requests for clarifications but has confirmed that it is not possible for the UK to pursue parallel negotiations with potential vaccine suppliers, meaning the UK would be required to stop its negotiations with manufacturers with which the EU launched negotiations.
“The Commission has also confirmed that it is not possible for the UK to have a role in the governance shaping decisions on which manufacturers to negotiate with, or the price, volume and delivery schedule negotiated.
“The UK Government has decided on this occasion not to join this internal EU initiative, but given our shared interest in ensuring that vaccines are available to all, we are committed to strengthening our collaboration with the EU outside the framework.”
The senior diplomat said the UK Government had an “extremely strong” track record in supporting international efforts to find a coronavirus vaccine.
This includes co-hosting a summit that raised £5.5 billion towards research.
Before the decision, UK and EU officials spent months negotiating over joining the scheme.
Pro-EU politicians slammed the move, accusing the Prime Minister of not showing proper leadership.
Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrat’s health spokeswoman, said: “When coronavirus is such a threat to people’s lives and livelihoods, Ministers should leave no stone unturned in their bid to end the pandemic.
The backbench MP said: “This decision makes perfect sense and proves the benefit of coming out of the EU. We will be in a better position if we are independent on this and make our own decisions.
“There are a number of British companies and institutions working hard on getting a vaccine.
“We need to make our own decisions rather than being part of some big international bloc.”