Ministers have rejected offers to join a European Union bid for a coronavirus vaccine amid anger at “costly delays”, according to sources.
The EU is planning to spend around €2bn (£1.8bn) on the advance purchase of vaccines that are undergoing testing on behalf of the 27 member states.
The UK has been holding talks with Brussels over the scheme for weeks, which aims to leverage the bloc’s collective bargaining power to strike deals with global pharmaceutical giants.
But Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, is believed to have walked away from the opportunity after not receiving “sufficient assurance” that the UK would get enough vaccines on time, The Telegraph reported.
The European Commission is expected to be notified of the move on Friday.
The decision not to participate is expected to provoke a backlash among opposition MPs, who have accused ministers of being blinded by Brexit ideology.
However, Government sources told the newspaper that officials believe signing up to the scheme could delay the rollout of a successful vaccine in the UK by up to six months as negotiations over distribution took place.
They claimed that countries that opted in would also be subject to a so-called “volume ceiling”, or cap on the number of doses allocated to each member state.
But the UK would have no say in negotiations, pricing or the timetable for delivering the vaccine as it is no longer an EU member state, insiders said.
The EU stresses that “collective purchasing power” will enable participants to drive down costs.
But officials argue the benefits are “limited” as most pharmaceutical companies are offering the UK similar prices to other countries.
Another source insisted that the decision would “not damage the efforts” being undertaken by the Government’s Vaccines Task Force, which is coordinating efforts to research and produce a safe vaccine.
The UK has already secured a bilateral deal with Oxford University and the pharma giant AstraZeneca, as well as Imperial College London to accelerate trials of a vaccine.
The Oxford and AstraZeneca alliance – which, if successful, will mean the UK becoming the first recipient of the vaccine – began phase two of human trials in May.