Military planes send vaccines to Britain to avoid ports affected by Brexit | Politics


Tens of millions of doses of the Belgian-made Covid-19 vaccine will be transported to Britain by military planes to avoid delays at ports caused by Brexit, as part of contingency plans being developed by the government.

The Department of Health and Social Affairs (DHSC) and senior sources at the Department of Defense (MoD) confirmed to the Observer On Saturday, large shipments would be routed from January 1 by air if roads, railways and sea lanes suffered delays widely expected after that date.

Defense ministry officials and military planning staff recently met with officials from the government vaccine task force to discuss the plans, with priority given to rapid transfer of doses. “We will do this if necessary. The plans have been discussed, ”a DHSC spokesperson said.

The move shows ministers are prepared to face serious disruption at commercial ports and airports, whether or not there is a Brexit deal, and are not ready to allow the vaccine to be delayed under any circumstances .

News of preparations to fly in flasks came when it was announced that Brexit negotiations would resume in Brussels on Sunday after Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed as a result of ‘a telephone conversation that there was still reason to hope the deal will be concluded in the coming days.

In a joint statement, the leaders said they would talk to each other again on Monday evening, with both sides seeking a breakthrough with just three weeks before the UK leaves the single market and customs union.

“In a phone call today, we praised the fact that progress has been made in many areas,” they said. “Nonetheless, important differences remain on three key issues: a level playing field, governance and fisheries. The two sides stressed that no agreement was possible if these issues were not resolved.

“While recognizing the seriousness of these differences, we agreed that our negotiating teams should go the extra mile to assess whether they can be resolved. We therefore ask our chief negotiators to meet again tomorrow in Brussels. We will speak again on Monday evening. ”

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson during a phone call with Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday. Photograph: Downing Street / Twitter / Twitter

A government source close to the talks said: “Time is running out and there is no doubt that this process may not lead to an agreement.

“This is the last roll of the dice. There is a fair deal to be made, but this will only happen if the EU is prepared to respect the fundamental principles of sovereignty and control. ”

The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, tweeted: “We’ll see if there’s a way forward. Work continues tomorrow. ”

Irish taoiseach Micheál Martin urged both sides to make the compromises needed to reach an agreement. He tweeted: “I welcome the fact that negotiators are resuming their talks on a trade deal between the EU and the UK in Brussels tomorrow. An agreement is in everyone’s interest. Every effort should be made to reach an agreement. ”

Cabinet Office Shadow Minister Rachel Reeves said: “The British people have been promised a deal and as time goes on we urge both sides to come to an agreement.

“We can then focus on the job at hand, which is to secure the economy and rebuild our country after the pandemic.”

The main points of divergence remain regarding so-called level playing field agreements to ensure fair trade competition and EU access to UK fishing waters. Sources close to the negotiations said the situation was serious, with the latest political issues proving difficult to resolve.

In London, MEPs will debate and vote on the controversial internal market bill on Monday. The government is then due to table the finance bill on Wednesday, containing new clauses that cancel the withdrawal agreement previously concluded with the EU, a decision which would effectively mark the end of negotiations.

But senior diplomats expect an agreement to be reached before then, with EU leaders in a position to sign a deal at a virtual summit of EU leaders on Thursday.

The cautiously positive outlook in Brussels contrasts with recent warnings from Downing Street that a deal is at stake.

British sources said on Saturday that Downing Street was hoping for more realism from the EU after Michel Barnier, the bloc’s chief negotiator, allegedly tabled unacceptable proposals on Thursday. It was argued that the proposals on national subsidy control and standards would effectively force Westminster to align with the EU regulation. Brussels has also reportedly demanded a 10-year hiatus on any modification of access to fishing for European fleets in the United Kingdom’s exclusive economic zone. David Frost, the British negotiator, offered a three-year transition period.

The Pfizer / BioNTech Covid jab is an mRNA vaccine. Essentially, mRNA is a molecule used by living cells to transform the genetic sequences of DNA into proteins which are the building blocks of all of their fundamental structures. A segment of DNA is copied (“transcribed”) into a piece of mRNA, which in turn is “read” by the cell’s tools to synthesize proteins.

In the case of an mRNA vaccine, the virus’s mRNA is injected into the muscle, and our own cells then read it and synthesize the viral protein. The immune system reacts to these proteins – which alone cannot cause disease – as if they had been carried by the whole virus. This generates a protective response that studies have shown to last for some time.

The first two Covid-19 vaccines to announce the results of the three Phase 3 trials were based on mRNA. They were the first to come out of the blocks because, as soon as the genetic code for Sars-CoV-2 was known – it was released by the Chinese in January 2020 – the companies that had worked on this technology were able to start producing virus mRNA. The production of conventional vaccines takes much longer.

Adam Finn, Professor of Pediatrics at the Bristol Children’s Vaccine Center, University of Bristol

With or without a deal, businesses will face many additional checks on goods leaving and entering the UK.

The prospect of an agreement creates political challenges for the two main parties. Major Tory Brexiters will closely scrutinize any deal to prove the UK has ceded fishing ground or been linked to EU state aid rules. Many have already rebelled against the government for its measures against coronaviruses.

Some Tory donors who backed Johnson’s bid to become a leader on his Brexit stance are also said to be worried about his willingness to cede ground to the EU in order to strike a deal.

UK officials with knowledge of plans to import the vaccines said other means of transporting them would be considered in addition to military planes, including through the express freight service that was set up to transport drugs and medical supplies by road, rail and boat to the UK. in 2019, before Brexit.

But flying them on military planes would be the fastest and pose the least risk of delay, allowing consignments to be airlifted to military airports or others near centers where the vaccine could be distributed.

Since the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine was approved for use in the UK by regulators last week, 800,000 doses have already been imported through the Channel Tunnel and are being kept in secure locations. In total, up to five million doses are expected to enter the country by the end of the year.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Saturday the vaccine could lead to the relaxation of restrictions before the end of March.

In an interview with The Telegraph, he said he “can’t wait […] come back to life through mutual respect and personal responsibility, not through laws set in Parliament ”.

He added: “There is no doubt that getting the vaccine early … will bring the time when we can get rid of these angry restrictions, but until then we have to follow them. Help is ongoing. ”

After January 1, when the EU’s transition period comes to an end and delays are expected at borders, another 35 million will be transported to the UK.

A source from the Department of Defense said, “If we have to use military planes to bring them in, we will. If the request is made, we will be ready. ”

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