According to contingency plans being developed by the UK government, ‘tens of millions’ of vaccines produced in Belgium will be flown into Britain via military aircraft, to sidestep customs delays caused by the Brexit transition.
MoD and Department of Health and Social Care sources told the Observer that ‘large consignments’ of vaccines would be brought in by RAF freight from January 1, should road, rail and sea routes prove untenable. With the next round of Brexit talks set to resume on Sunday, the move illustrates an encouraging step in immediate contingency planning, which will allay some public health concerns as many companies gear up for potential delays at borders.
A MoD source said on vaccines: “If we need to use military planes to bring them in, we will. If the request is made, we will be ready.”
Commenting on the next round of Brexit talks, UK PM, Boris Johnson, and EC President, Ursula von der Leyen, released a joint statement, saying that divergences on the level playing field, governance, and fisheries remain. Despite the impasse, negotiators will reconvene on Sunday, with the leaders set to talk by phone once again on Monday
Speaking to the Observer, one government source said: “There is barely any time left and there is no doubt that this process may not end in agreement.
“This is the final throw of the dice. There is a fair deal to be done but it will only happen if the EU is willing to respect the fundamental principles of sovereignty and control.”
Talking on the supply of vaccines, government officials said that in addition to military aircraft, vaccines could be delivered by express freight service, which was established to deliver medicines and medical supplies to the UK ahead of the Brexit transition date. Some 800,000 doses of the Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) BioNTech vaccine have already been imported into the UK via the Channel Tunnel, with a total of five million doses expected to be delivered before year-end.
In the new year, some 35 million vaccine doses are expected to be imported into the UK. It will be interesting to see whether – in a No Deal scenario – there will be a hard customs cut-off, or an additional transition period, while final details are hammered out. Perhaps we will not see the ‘new normal’ of post Brexit trade until the middle of 2021 or after. At least for now, we know the UK government are prepared to bring vaccines into the country ‘come what may’.