Good morning. One of the benefits of Brexit, its supporters claimed, was that it might improve the UK’s relations with the EU, because Britain would be transformed from a surly tenant of the EU’s to a helpful neighbour. “So I say again directly to our EU friends and partners, I think this deal means a new stability and a new certainty in what has sometimes been a fractious and difficult relationship,” Boris Johnson said on 24 December, when the trade deal with the EU has been agreed. Three months later the opposite seems to be happening, and this week the vaccine dispute is in danger of escalating.
As my colleague Daniel Boffey reports in his overnight story, the EU has revived its threat to ban vaccine exports to the UK, which could put back the UK’s vaccine programme by two months.
This week, ahead of the EU summit on Thursday where the proposal will be discussed, Boris Johnson is expected to speak to EU leaders including Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president, in a bid to stop vaccine protectionism taking hold.
Giving interviews this morning, Helen Whately, the health minister, said the government wanted to calm things down. She told the Today programme:
What we’re hearing at the moment is some speculation, some conjecture, an element of rhetoric. But what is actually important is that the EU and no country should follow vaccine nationalism or vaccine protectionism.
We expect the European Union to stick by their commitments and I’m sure the prime minister will be in contact with European counterparts – he speaks to European counterparts regularly- but I don’t think this debate is helpful to anybody.
What matters is for all countries to be getting on and deploying and vaccinating their population.
But she would not rule out the UK taking retaliatory action (such as blocking the supply of materials exported to the UK that are used for the production of the Pfizer vaccine on the continent) if the EU were to block the export of vaccines to the UK. Asked if the UK would retaliate in this way, she said:
I don’t think it is very helpful to speculate at the moment. I don’t think this is a helpful line to go down.
Here is the agenda for today.
9am: Sir Keir Starmer holds his monthly LBC phone-in.
9.30am: The ONS publishes healthy life expectancy figures for England and Wales.
12pm: Downing Street is expected to hold its daily lobby briefing.
12.15pm: Vaughan Gething, the Welsh government’s health minister, holds a coronavirus briefing.
12.15pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, is expected to hold a coronavirus briefing.
2.30pm: Priti Patel, the home secretary, takes questions in the Commons.
2.30pm: Tim Davies, the BBC director general, gives evidence to the Commons public accounts committee.
3.30pm: Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, makes a statement to MPs about the defence review. As my colleague Dan Sabbagh reports, he will confirm a cut of 10,000 in the size of the British army.
4pm: Theresa May, the former PM, gives evidence to the joint committee on national security strategy.
After 4.30pm: MPs will debate the so-called genocide amendment to the trade bill passed in the Lords.
And at some point today the James Hamilton report into whether Nicola Sturgeon broke the ministerial code is expected to be published.
Politics Live has been mostly about Covid for the last year and I will be covering UK coronavirus developments today, as well as non-coronavirus Westminster politics. For global coronavirus news, do read our global live blog.
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