Saturday 27 March 2021 9:10 am

Britain ‘close’ to striking vaccine deal with EU amid supply row

Britain is said to be close to striking a vaccine deal with the EU that will remove the threat of the bloc cutting off supplies of the jabs.

After a week of tense diplomacy the two sides are expected to ink an agreement as early as this weekend under which the EU will remove its threat of blocking exports of the Pfizer vaccine to the UK. 

In return the government will agree to give up some long-term supplies of the Astrazeneca jab that are due to be exported from Holland.

Top diplomatic sources told the Times that the behind-the-scenes talks, which began last weekend and were led by former EU ambassador Sir Tim Barrow, had helped restore trust despite rising tensions in public rhetoric.

The sources said the decision to use Barrow rather than Brexit negotiator Lord Frost had been key to reaching a deal.

“For us it was very significant that Johnson did not use Frost but instead went through the Foreign Office,” one EU diplomat told the newspaper. “It showed that he was really serious about finding a compromise and trying to build trust.”

Barrow was dispatched to Brussels hours after the government was forced to admit that it would have to delay the UK’s vaccine rollout due to supply issues.

In a joint statement earlier this week the two sides said they were working to “ensure a reciprocally beneficial relationship between the UK and EU on Covid-19”.

The progress in securing a deal comes despite inflammatory comments from French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian who said the UK would struggle with supplies for second doses and accused the government of “blackmailing” the EU over jabs.

The UK has so far given first jabs to 29m people — more than half the adult population — and has insisted it will meet its target of vaccinating all adults by the end of July.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi last night revealed that the UK will aim to give booster jabs to over-70s from September to protect people from variants of the virus.