Political leaders in the UK are debating whether to accept a European Union invitation to join a scheme that could speed up obtaining a coronavirus vaccine for use across the bloc, or whether such a move would go against Brexit sentiment.

The EU would have greater purchasing power when a vaccine is developed, especially in the face of US moves to monopolise effective vaccines when they come on the market.

“We have reached out to the UK, inviting it to express its interest if it wants to participate in the joint EU approach established by the vaccine strategy,” the European commission said. “Discussions are now ongoing with the UK.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “Work is ongoing to determine whether and how the UK participates in the EU vaccine strategy.”

The EU is in talks with US company Johnson & Johnson. Earlier in the week it was reported that the US has cornered the market in the drug remdesivir, produced by the US company Gilead and used to treat ebola.

According to a Whitehall official quoted in the Financial Times, there has been some “back and forth” on the issue within Whitehall. “The EU has set an ‘end of the week’ deadline for about the last three weeks, but it keeps coming and going,” the official told the newspaper. “Ultimately, the decision will get made in No 10.”

The British government is anxious to “get Brexit done,” and joining the EU scheme could be interpreted as a “Brext backtrack,” in the words of the populist Daily Express newspaper.