BORIS Johnson saved the UK’s vaccine rollout during late-night calls with the EU’s Ursula von der Leyen – forcing the bloc to back down on its bid to stop jab supplies reaching Britain.
The Prime Minister is said to have made the European Commission President ditch plans to stop 3.5million doses of the Pfizer jab from reaching the UK in just two phone calls 30 minutes apart.
Boris Johnson has a virtual call from the study of No10 Downing Street with a group of school childrenCredit: Crown Copyright
Their row over vaccines exploded on Friday evening when Brussels said it would trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
It would have created a hard border on the island of Ireland – along with other measures to stop Pfizer vaccine supplies reaching Britain.
Mr Johnson called an emergency meeting at No 10 to decide the UK’s response, before speaking with the Commission President just before 10pm.
He is said to have set out his demands in the calls, warning Ms von der Leyen her actions could threaten the Irish peace process, the Daily Mail reports.
The two leaders spoke again at 10.30pm and the PM warned the EU chief that her actions risked denying millions of vulnerable Brits their second Pfizer injections.
Ms von der Leyen then agreed to abandon the jab blockade in a screeching U-turn, issuing a climbdown message shortly after.
She wrote on Twitter: “Constructive talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson tonight.
“We agreed on the principle that there should not be restrictions on the export of vaccines by companies where they are fulfilling contractual responsibilities.”
EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen issued a climbdown message after crunch talks with the PMCredit: AFP – Getty
Speaking of the momentous calls, a No10 spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister spoke to EU Commission president Ursula Von Der Leyen yesterday evening.
“He expressed his grave concerns about the potential impact which the steps the EU has taken today on vaccine exports could have.”
Meanwhile, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said on Saturday afternoon the EU “recognises they made a mistake” and “stepped back” following the conversation between the two leaders.
He said: “We’re confident, we have assurances, that the supply that we have procured, the supply that we have paid for, is going to be delivered.”
Dominic Raab said he felt “reassured” that the EU has “no desire to to block suppliers fulfilling contracts for vaccine distribution to the UK”.
The Foreign Secretary tweeted yesterday afternoon: “The world is watching and it is only through international collaboration that we will beat this pandemic.”
And Tory MPs were thrilled with the PM’s victory, with one describing the EU’s surrender as Mr Johnson’s “Falklands moment”.
The backbencher said: “This could be Boris’ Falklands moment… Ministers have played a blinder.”
MPs on both sides of the Brexit divide also heralded Mr Johnson’s efforts.
One Remainer reportedly said: “If this had happened in 2016, I would have voted to Leave without blinking.”
But Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster was less diplomatic, branding the EU’s move an “incredible act of hostility”.
Despite the victory calls, it is believed that the Government was nonetheless well-prepared for a potential vaccine block and had already drawn up contingency plans to break any EU blockade, according to the Mail on Sunday.
The paper reports that supplies of the Pfizer jab could have been airlifted out of the continent under a “vaccine security exercise” adapted from plans for a No-Deal Brexit.
It came as Britain yesterday recorded a daily record for first-dose jabs – 487,756 – bringing the nation’s first dose total to almost 8.4 million.
Government data up to January 29 shows 8,859,372 Covid jabs have been given overall in the UK so far, with 8,378,940 people receiving first doses and 480,432 second doses.
It means 57 per cent of the first four priority groups have received at least one dose.
The seven-day rolling average of first doses given in the UK is now 359,656.
Boris Johnson was pictured this week at the French biotechnology laboratory Valneva in Livingston, Scotland, where they will be producing a Covid 19 vaccine Credit: PA:Press Association