you're watching bbc news. the headlines: the number of coronavirus deaths in the uk has passed 100,000 — the highest in europe. prime minister borisjohnson said he was "deeply sorry" for every life lost and promised that lessons would be learned. the country has been struggling to contain a new more contagious variant that emerged late last year. the european commission president has warned producers of covid vaccines that they must deliver on their promises, as a row grows over the supply of the jabs within the eu. two companies — astrazeneca and pfizer—biontech — both said production problems meant deliveries were likely to be lower than expected. the us senate has rejected an attempt to stop donald trump's impeachment trial. the republican rand paul argued the hearing would be unconstitutional because mr trump is no longer president,
that is it. now, time for hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. the covid—19 pandemic has tested the cohesion and capacity of the european union. member states have agreed an emergency economic rescue package, but now they face an even more pressing joint challenge because the roll—out of vaccines in the eu is proving to be much slower than promised. why? well, my guest is ireland's europe minister, thomas byrne. has covid exposed failings in both brussels and in dublin?
thomas byrne in dublin, welcome to hardtalk. thank you, stephen. are you disappointed in the markedly slow roll—out of the vaccine in so many member states of the european union, including your own? well, i think the roll—out of the vaccine in the european union certainly has been a bit slower than some other countries. yes, you could compare it to britain. but i think everybody�*s experiences of the pandemic are different. and indeed, there's lots of different league tables that i don't particularly want to go into where someone is best, someone is worst. and i think the vaccine roll—out is at the very, very early stages. and i think the key thing here is that we do have a safe and effective vaccine. i think the issue of vaccine hesitancy, i have to say, i think was in a lot
of people's minds, maybe before christmas, that issue seems to have disappeared in our country, at least for now. and the pressure is the other way now to make sure that it does get out. right. one of the big problems, though, that people saw with a vaccine programme was that if any mistake was made at the beginning, and we are still at the beginning, then that could have a devastating effect on the roll—out of the programme, and that maybe brought too much caution in at the start of the particular vaccine programme that we have. well, it's interesting you say that because you're the europe minister and you look very closely at the way the eu systems and institutions work. and it seems when it comes to procurement decisions that were made during the summer, when it was quite clear that vaccine was going to be absolutely crucial to getting everybody out of this covid mess, when it comes to that procurement system, and then when it comes to capacity and bureaucracy, the eu has failed. no, i wouldn't accept that at all. i mean, i'm not entirely satisfied with every aspect of the roll—out, but i don't accept that the eu has failed. last summer, vaccines were still in development,
were still in trials. the first vaccine was approved by the european union, i think, on december 21st. yeah, but that's part of my point. it was many weeks earlier that the uk approved its first vaccine, the uk... hang on. let me just finish my point. the uk, and we compare with the uk, because obviously you're neighbours and the uk is the most obvious comparison, the uk actually approached astrazeneca and procured many millions of vaccines on order in may. it was not until, as i understand it, august that the eu commission and the relevant eu institutions started placing orders for vaccine. the lag is now coming home to roost because while the uk's already vaccinated 10%—plus of its population, you in ireland are at around 3%, and in france, they're not even at 2%. yeah, well, we're using up as much vaccine as we can get, as supply dictates. now, what the european union
has done and britain hasn't done this to the same extent, is procure and arrange contracts with a broad range of vaccine manufacturers. so last summer and in the spring, it wasn't clear who would be successful or who wouldn't be successful. we see this week the merck company withdrawing from that particular vaccine race because they haven't been able to get out to the market quickly enough. so nobody could tell earlier on last year what particular vaccines would be successful. what the european union did, and i think it was a sensible approach, was to try to procure a broad range of vaccines that would vaccinate the european population many times over and would also leave some vaccines as well to be distributed on a global scale, because obviously there's another side of this particular coin. and so, while approval in britain in relation to pfizer and in relation to astrazeneca have happened a couple of weeks, really, before the european union approval, that's all it is. minister... minister, i have to point out, the eu hasn't formally approved
the astrazeneca vaccine even as we speak today. apparently there's going to be a meeting on friday. what on earth is going on? well, britain went out first on vaccine approvals and, yes, i certainly give kudos for that. but my point is that as we speak today, ireland is in crisis. you've still got very serious numbers of people catching this disease. infection rates are still dangerously high. and you sit as a member state of the european union, in a club which still, even today, hasn't formally approved the astrazeneca vaccine. why? because that wasn't possible to do until astrazeneca applied for authorisation from the european medicines agency, which they only did on a date injanuary, as i understand it. that's only a matter of weeks ago. the european medicines agency will make its decision this friday. we certainly hope that it's positive. astrazeneca is a very important source, as are pfizer, as are moderna, which britain
hasn't got involved with too much yet, our suppliers. and we're looking forward to other approvals down the road as well. we've also given assistance to various vaccine manufacturers as well, to make sure that that supply could be ramped up. let's be honest... stephen, there are lots of league tables. there are lots of performers. you mentioned irish covid rates, and, yes, irish covid rates did increase dramatically around the christmas period, but they've also decreased dramatically since then. and, infact, before the christmas period, our rates were among the best in europe. and itjust points out to you, which i've seen at a local level of my own area in ireland, this virus changes all the time. so the vaccine situation is what it is at the moment. but i know that really serious efforts are under way to get more production out, to get more supply into the member states. and i can tell you there is no problem with distribution of the vaccine in ireland, once we get the supply. and we are on the... well, you say there's no
problem of distribution. there's very definitely a problem with supply. now, your taoiseach, your prime minister, has said that realistically, you can't begin to think about lifting lockdown restrictions in ireland until, really, the big majority of irish people have been vaccinated. as we speak today, astrazeneca, who are hoping to get formal approvalfrom the eu on friday for their vaccine, they've already told the eu that they cannot supply what they thought they could in terms of the numbers of vaccines. the allocation was going to be something like 80 million, it's been cut to something under a0 million, which means ireland, you as a member state, are going to get 60% less of the astrazeneca vaccine than you were planning for. this presumably fundamentally changes the ambition you can have as to when you get your people vaccinated? well, if that pans out, of course that would change it fundamentally. as we speak, though, the european commission, i think, is engaged in intensive discussions with astrazeneca. there is a contract signed and money paid for this vaccine
and the european union is entitled to receive it. i think that that message has been sent to astrazeneca loudly and clearly. it's not acceptable simply to change at the last minute just before approval and say, no, we can't give you the vaccine that you expected to have from march. 0n the other side of the coin, i know that pfizer reduced capacity temporarily last week. that was to be for a longer period of time and it was reduced, i think, to one week. they expect an unspecified as of yet increase in the vaccine that they will be supplying to the european market from about 15th february. all right. so, minister... this is an issue, i know, and i'm not denying or countering you that there are problems. there are other problems with covid as well where i think we can compare favourably. but... but, minister, ijust want to... i want to get to grips with the politics of this. how aggressive is the eu prepared to be on this vaccine supply issue? because i've seen different comments from different eu officials and leaders today suggesting that unless, for example, astrazeneca promises to restore
its original numbers of vaccine supply to the eu, unless it does that, the eu is going to put new restrictions on all vaccines that are being manufactured inside the eu and being sent to non—eu countries, including britain. so are you in essence saying that if you don't get what you want from companies like astrazeneca, you will literally block export of vaccine from the eu? no, i'm not saying that. but what i'm saying and what i'm saying to the european commission, because they're the ones doing the negotiations on our behalf, and what i've heard them say is that astrazeneca must fulfil the contract that they entered into with the european union. this is a fundamental principle of commercialism. this is a commercial company engaged in a contract that it has been paid for and it needs to fulfil that contract. i think that's the first point. do what you said you would do and do what you agreed to do.
that's a very, very basic point. i don't see what fault lies in the european commission for that. but i do expect and i know the european commission are taking a very proactive and very strong approach with astrazeneca. and what i heard the commissioner say, and again, this is a matter for the european union, and we do these things from time to time on various issues of concern, they do want to know what product is leaving the european union. but i have not heard any proposals for restrictions on the export of that product. european union fundamentally is a trading bloc. we trade with the rest of the world. we don't want to be putting up barriers to trade. we see the dangers that barriers to trade have caused because of brexit and the inconvenience and the problems that britain is facing there because of brexit have been caused by those barriers going up. so we don't want them going up. we... no, but, minister, let us... if i may, i'm going to stop you. let us be specific. the health commissioner said just hours ago, quote, "the european union will take any action required to protect its citizens and rights in the case of vaccine distribution." so i come back to this very simple question for you. do you, as a minister of a member state, think it
would be right, if you continue to have supply problems from companies like astrazeneca, for the eu to consider blocking exportation of vaccine made in the eu to countries outside the eu? what we want first of all is the companies to do what they said they would do. i think that's a very... you made that point. but answer my question. i mean, this thing, this thing of comparing one with the other, this vaccine nationalism, that we're better than you... i mean, i do not think that that puts the situation any further on or helps anybody. no, i don't want to see restrictions and i hope that they won't be necessary. but there was speculation. i cannot add to that because i have no information on it whatsoever. there were allegations perhaps there was vaccine put to other countries, rather than the european union. i have no information on that. i can't make that claim. but if it were happening, if a commercial entity were manufacturing within the european union and then not fulfilling its contracts, of course, that would be of huge concern, and one would want appropriate measures taken by the european union. that's what you would expect
any government or international body like the european union to do for its citizens. but i don't think we're at that stage yet, and what i want, and i think what every government wants, is for astrazeneca to fulfil the contract and get these injections into people's arms, starting in the middle of february. now, we do know our supply is secure in february, but we need that supply to continue into march. and i have no doubt, if astrazeneca have supply problems in the european union, we won't be the only ones affected. that would have knock on effects everywhere. but they have to comply with what they've contractually agreed with the european commission. the whole point of the way the eu's handled covid is that it's supposed to be a joint, coordinated, cohesive operation across all of the member states. when one looks at this, that sort of coordination seems to be breaking down. hungary, for example, is so frustrated by the slow roll—out of vaccine through the commission, through the european medicines agency formal approval process, that they have now unilaterally decided to approve russia's sputnik v vaccine for use
in hungary, and officials saying, "if vaccine shipments continue to arrive at this rate from brussels, then we can only get vaccine from other alternative sources." will ireland go the same way? i mean, as i understand it, the russian vaccine isn't yet finished phase three clinical trials. so, you know, that's not a question i'd be wanting to answer. how could any authority say that we can approve your vaccine when the trials are not fully complete? we're happy to stand by the european medicines agency. if the sputnik vaccine were to seek approval in the european union and go through the rigorous testing, then i'd have no difficulty with it, in itself. but as i understand it, this has not hurried up the process for hungary, anyway. they may have approved them, but as i understand it, they don't have supplies as of yet. we are all in the same business of wanting to make sure that the european commission does the job that we entrust in it, which is to do the contracts, get the product,
and then we will distribute. and i'm satisfied this week that they are taking a sufficiently hard line, but that has to happen, and the fault here is not with the european commission. the fault here is with astrazeneca, this week. minister, let me now turn to the other great challenge facing ireland right now, and that is brexit. the economic reality of brexit after the transition period kicked in at the beginning of this year. is it proving more of a challenge than you feared it would be? we've known exactly what we'd be facing over the last number of years. it's pretty much on cue. not everybody has been ready, some of our traders maybe have underestimated the difficulties. the costs are very high. there are certainly some items that maybe we've not fully foreseen, but we've always known that brexit was a deep dive into the unknown. and i think it is hitting home. i see from british media reports in britain, but also here, but i think
the mistake... were you ready, minister byrne, in your government? because i'm just looking at words from the freight transport association of ireland's general manager, aidan flynn. he's saying, "right now, industry's struggling to keep the flow of goods moving. there's now a backlog of goods of all hues, from mechanical parts to household goods, furniture, food. it's all sitting in depots." "not enough agents," he says, "to process all of the bureaucracy and the declarations." that's on you. no, that's actually on britain and the decision that britain took to engage in this brexit process, which i think has been shown to create these difficulties, to raise these borders. so when somebody wants to import a product into ireland from britain, you need to get customs agents probably on both sides, if you're doing transactions. you need to make sure everybody is ready. the product is ready. and that is on britain. britain made that decision, and unfortunately, then, we are left living with it.
those controls, those inconveniences are what we all sought to avoid in the single market of the european union, what britain played a key role in putting together. so they're now back and undoubtedly they are causing significant inconvenience and significant cost to our business. we're trying to mitigate that. we'll never eliminate the problems caused by brexit, but we are trying to mitigate them financially, and also by saying to our... how much is it going to cost, and who exactly gets compensated ? cos i'm just mindful, again, just reading the irish press, there's a fascinating story about bread. there's a real fear that bread prices are going to skyrocket in ireland because you import most of your flour from the uk, and because a lot of that flour contains wheat from third countries, there are now going to be tariffs put on the flour that your bread companies need to make bread in ireland. and the cost is going to be, i imagine, ultimately felt by the irish consumer. so who's going to compensate them?
well, thank you, brexit. that's the reality. that's what we've been left with, as a significant trading partner and friend of britain, and we still remain a strong friend of britain. what we're trying to do is, we grow more than enough wheat to feed ourselves. i wouldn't be concerned about that. but what has happened over the years is that different supply chains have developed, with britain at the centre of them. what's happening now, though, is those supply chains are changing and people have drifted from the direct savings and the direct routes from ireland to britain, which are indirect into the continent, and switched then directly to the continent to get new suppliers or go on new routes, directly to the continent. and that's a gain for us, because we're in the single market of the european union. that's a huge loss to britain. so we're making changes. the european union has shown solidarity by establishing a brexit adjustment reserve. we're going to get a billion euro for that and it will help compensate for some of the effects. but the government is also putting together a 3.4 billion euro package to cover some of the economic losses as a result of brexit, and indeed covid, over
the next while. so we're working on putting that together. but we're also working to make sure those companies that are badly affected by brexit can change suppliers, can get alternatives that don't incur those brexit costs. cos that's what they are. they're costs because of the decision of britain to leave the european union. and those costs are hugely magnified in britain, and we see them all the time, where we hear so many stories of regret. and it is a matter of regret for us that britain decided to leave the european union. we've lost a friend in the union. well... ..and it's going to take a lot of work for us now to keep that relationship ongoing... interesting... interesting you say it's going to take a lot of work to maintain any sort of relationship with britain. that's not quite... that's not quite what i said. it's going to take a lot of work to rebuild and maintain that... well, i don't want to put words in your mouth, but i am going to quote directly from the foreign affairs chief in the eu, josep borrell, who said just the other day, "if things continue like this," and he was very mindful of the fact that the uk right now isn't even giving full
diplomatic status to the eu ambassador in london. he said, "if things continue like this, then there are no good prospects for the relationship between the eu and britain." is that the feeling in dublin? no, that wouldn't be our feeling, quite frankly. i think the relationship between britain and ireland is absolutely critical, and we know that more than most because of the peace process. a strong, engaged britain in northern ireland are absolutely essential for the peace process. so since the general election, a new government was formed, since the assembly in northern ireland was put back into operation, the north—south bodies have been working really well together, and indeed, the british—irish council has been reactivated, where we meet with the british government and indeed the devolved nations and the island dependencies, as well, to discuss and work on matters of common interest. that is really, really important strategically for us, that we do that and we have a good relationship with britain. right... that was difficult over the last years, it's difficult, but it is crucial for us. but one of the foundation stones, minister, of the relationship between ireland and the united kingdom
is the good friday agreement, and you know better than i that one of the key concepts in the good friday agreement is that, if there is clear and consistent evidence of public opinion both in northern ireland and in the republic of ireland, feeling it be time for a poll, a referendum on unification, then that poll should happen. now, last weekend's sunday times found that the number of people saying yes to a referendum on a united ireland in northern ireland was at around 50%. now, admittedly, not a majority said that they would vote to leave and to join a united ireland. a small majority said that they wanted to remain in the uk. but nonetheless, it seems now there may well be a majority saying it's time for a border poll. does the irish government believe it's time for a border poll? what the irish government tries to recall at all times, both in what we say and what we do,
is what the good friday agreement is actually about. it's about relationships. it's about relationships between catholic and protestant, unionists and nationalists in northern ireland, between north and south on the island, and actually, equally, again, between britain and ireland. that's what the good friday agreement is about. so everything we do is to make sure that those relationships are nurtured and protected. so what we're trying to do is get the focus on, how can we all work together? how can those relationships work together? so what the government has done is put in place a shared island unit in the department of the taoiseach, which is going to work and see, can we get some common projects developed, such as roads projects, infrastructure projects, educational projects, health projects, of a cross—border dimension? so that we can actually see, this is how we live and work on this shared island. because one of the key principles of the good friday agreement is that there's respect... i understand... i understand there are all sorts of different ways you want cooperation to be intensified. but why are you fighting shy of a unification poll? because the taoiseach, mr martin, said recently, "i've taken a clear view
after brexit that it should not be a catalyst for something like a border poll." now, politicians in sinn fein and others are saying that you and your party and your taoiseach are basically frightened of the idea of unification. why? why are you so frightened? i want unification, and i'm going to take no lessons from sinn fein, who, through their associates in the ira, caused huge damage to the idea of a united ireland over many decades. so i'm not going to take any criticism on that from them. i want a united ireland. my republican nationalist identity is protected in the good friday agreement, but as is the unionist identity, too. that's protected. so what we think should be a first stage is that we should work together to see how we can better do that. there are some people who want to raise flags all the time to try to get, you know, political support and try to push things on. but the problem is, at the moment, if you push this along when there's no support for it, you know, when one side
in northern ireland takes control or takes over or pushes a particular agenda, it encourages, and usually results in, an equal but opposite reaction from the other side. and what we want to do is bring people together. i make no bones about the fact that i want a united ireland, but i also know that if we push this aggressively now, there will be aggressive push back. and i'm not certain that the time is now. and we believe that it really should be time now to work together, get projects together and show people what we are about, and not frighten the horses and frighten everyone back. because, in fact, if you had a border poll at this point, yes, some people would delight in that and welcome it. as the poll showed, it may not be successful, which defeats the very purpose of what a border poll is about, but it would also, i think, damage relations on the island, and they are very, very fragile still. all right. well, thomas byrne, it's been a pleasure having you on hardtalk. thanks forjoining me from dublin. thank you, stephen.
hello there. big temperature contrasts in the forecast for the next few days. many of us feeling the effects of a flow of mild air from the southwest. with that, you can see a lot of cloud on our earlier satellite image, but the orange colours working in, showing that milder air. however, notice the blue colours up towards the north. cold air holds on, particularly across the northern half of scotland — a cold start to wednesday here. much milder down towards the south, but across southern england, into southern and western wales, it's going to be quite misty and murky, damp and drizzly for a good part of the day. from the midlands and east anglia northwards, we should see some spells of sunshine. any rain, sleet and snow showers across southern scotland should tend to fade. best sunshine of all, i think, to be found across
the far north of scotland. that's also where we'll have the lowest of the temperatures, whereas down to the south, highs of ii or 12 degrees. now, through wednesday night, this band of rain, heavy rain, is going to work its way northeastwards. could be enough rain to cause some flooding across parts of north wales and north west england. remember, the ground here is still very wet. quite an array of temperatures as we start thursday morning. and with our band of rain working northwards into the cold air and then becoming very slow—moving, well, we could well see some quite significant snow. now, i think this will mostly be over the high ground, say, above 200 metres, in the pennines, up into the southern uplands, the south of the grampians as well, but where this snow does fall, it's going to be falling through a good part of the day, so that could cause some travel disruption. more likely, rain and sleet at low levels. northern scotland seeing some brightness, but it will be very cold here, just two or three degrees. down towards the south, if we see a little bit
of sunshine, highs of 13 or 14. exceptional for this time of year. now, the snow will be falling for quite some time across high ground of northern england and scotland. 15 to 30 cm of snow is possible. that could cause some disruption on high—level routes during thursday night. this next band of wet weather could well help to add to those snow totals, but as we get on into friday, the wet and wintry weather should tend to ease away. it will turn increasingly dry with some sunshine. still pretty chilly across the north and mild in the south, with highs of 12 degrees.
this is bbc news with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. my name's mike embley. the united kingdom is the first european state to record more than 100,000 deaths linked to the pandemic. iam i am deeply sorry for every life that has been lost and of course as prime minister i take full responsibility for everything that the government has done. a battle over covid supplies as the european union threatens to impose export controls on any made within the bloc. the us senate sees off an attempt by republican rand paul to stop donald trump's second impeachment trial. and clashes in delhi as thousands of farmers, protesting against new agriculture laws, break through police barricades, and scale the iconic red fort.