Boris Johnson took the opportunity at PMQs to admonish the EU's claim that the UK had brought in a vaccine export ban. The Prime Minister said of European Council president Charles Michel's claim that 'we have not blocked the export of a single Covid-19 vaccine, or vaccine components'. It comes after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab wrote to Michel to 'set the record straight' over the remarks.
The comments have been welcomed by Tory MPs, and are viewed as part of a wider shift in the UK government's approach to the EU. This means a more robust take on relations with Brussels. The biggest aspect of this is David Frost's appointment to the Cabinet as the minister in charge of UK/EU relations. Lord Frost started last week, taking responsibility of overseeing the Northern Ireland protocol from Michael Gove.
While both sides are keen to play down any reports of differences between the pair, already there are signs of the new approach. One of Frost's first acts in the role was to unilaterally extend grace periods on goods crossing the Irish Sea border. The act led to outrage in Brussels, with officials threatening legal action and accusing the UK government of violating the Northern Ireland protocol.
Not that Frost seems particularly worried by their response. He penned an op-ed for the Sunday Telegraph urging Brussels to put any ill-will over Brexit aside and focus on working constructively. The Telegraph summed up the article as 'Frost tells EU to stop sulking over Brexit and make a success of it'. He also mentioned the success of the UK vaccination programme, linking it to the UK's departure from the EU.
This new approach has already sparked a backlash among some business groups who have called on Frost to step back from his abrasive approach and seek to build a mutually beneficial trading relationship with the EU. While Downing Street backs Frost's approach, there are some in government who believe a softer approach could yield more results. Michael Gove's approach to both Brexit talks and the union is said to be able to be summed up by the idea that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Follow that metaphor and Frost is seen to be leaning towards the vinegar approach. But it's one that is popular with members of the European Research Group. Many MPs believe that the EU's behaviour over the vaccine debacle – when the European Commission planned to activate Article 16 of the protocol, only to backtrack after widespread condemnation – has weakened Brussels' resolve and ought to make discussions on improving the Northern Ireland Protocol more constructive. The question: will Frost's antics bounce the EU into submission or do they mean EU officials simply get their backs up?