Grant Shapps has ruled out potential disruption to deliveries of a coronavirus vaccine by post-Brexit border delays.
The transport secretary today said there is a “back-up to the back-up” to prevent any hiccups, amid concerns delivery of the Belgium-manufactured Pfizer jab could be jeopardised if the UK fails to secure a trade deal with the EU.
Time is running thin for the two sides to secure a deal before the transition period deadline on 31 December, as EU envoy Michel Barnier continues crunch negotiations in London today.
The UK will automatically leave the single market on 1 January if the two sides fail to achieve an agreement.
Shapps’s pledge came after business secretary Alok Sharma stoked concerns about potential supply chain issues for the vaccine when Britain formally leaves the bloc.
Speaking at the Downing Street press conference yesterday, Sharma was unable to rule out border disruptions.
Asked if he could “categorically” deny potential delays, the business secretary said: “You’ve talked about vaccines but supply chains obviously is an issue across many sectors.
“We are making a very big effort to communicate with businesses to make sure that they are ready, so that they can get customs clearances done.”
But the transport secretary today said he could “rule that out” and an “immense amount of work” has gone into border readiness.
Shapps added a £100m freight contract had been struck as a back-up option to supply vaccines to the UK.
“Even if there are problems, that we very much hope there won’t be and we plan for there not to be, we will still have the back-ups,” he added.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s medical director, yesterday insisted the NHS will be ready to deliver a vaccine when one is available.
“We are working incredibly hard and I am confident that the NHS will be up to what will be a huge logistical challenge. We have for flu every year, we will be able to do it for Covid,” Powis said.
It comes after the the UK’s public spending watchdog last week accused the government of failing to prepare for post-Brexit border controls, warning that Britain faces “widespread disruption”.
In an 85-page document, the National Audit Office (NAO) slammed the government for insufficient customs brokers, unprepared border sites and failure to develop adequate customs software.
The NAO warned of two-hour queues to board boats at Dover and traffic jams of up to 7,000 lorries.
It said the government’s plans for Kent ID cards and giant lorry parks “is still developing, with various issues yet to be resolved”.