This shocked some in Brussels as being wealthy, given that Mr Johnson last September threatened to bypass Britain’s landmark treaty with the European Union, in violation of international law, if the two sides failed to strike a trade deal.
At home, the prime minister wasted no time in using the vaccines issue as a club against his political rivals. On Wednesday, in the House of Commons, Johnson mocked Labor leader Keir Starmer for saying he wished Britain would stay in the European Medicines Agency, which has been slower to approve vaccines than Britain’s health regulator.
Mr Starmer dismissed the allegation as “nonsense” before later admitting that he once said that Britain would be better off remaining under the control of European regulators (although he indicated that this was not his party’s position).
And legal experts indicated that Britain would have had the power to approve vaccines just as quickly even if it was still in the European Union, although it would have enjoyed a shorter political deadline to act on its own.
However, it was a devastating retreat for Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party has maintained a modest lead over Labor in the polls, despite his government’s handling of the pandemic, which has been marked by delays, backsliding and mixed messages.
Recently, Britain passed 100,000 deaths, the highest toll in any European country. For now, though, voters appear to be focusing more on the launch of the vaccine, which reached a milestone this week with 10 million people receiving their first doses.
While much of the credit for the rapid distribution should go to Britain’s National Health Service, according to experts, it is also an appreciation for the government’s early investment in promising vaccines, such as those produced by Oxford and AstraZeneca.