Plan to boost Union by printing UK flag on vaccines 'exposes desperation of Tory ministers'

Dan Sanderson
·3 min read
The packaging plan was not taken forward -  DADO RUVIC/Reuters
The packaging plan was not taken forward - DADO RUVIC/Reuters

Tory ministers have been accused of “utter desperation” after it was claimed that they attempted to have UK flags printed on coronavirus vaccine packaging as part of their plan to save the Union.

The UK Government has not denied reports that the Number 10 ‘Union Unit', which has been tasked with combating a surge in support for Scottish independence, pushed for Union Jacks to be placed on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

While a spokesman said there were ‘no plans’ for the Union flag to be on the packaging, health secretary Matt Hancock and business secretary Alok Sharma had backed the request, the HuffPost website reported.

While some Scottish Unionists supported the idea, others said the proposal exposed the lack of a coherent or sophisticated strategy in London to counter a surge in support for Scottish independence and the SNP.

A UK Government source said: "Preparations by the UK Government will ensure everyone in the UK who needs it will receive the vaccine. The design of the packaging is very much a second order issue."

The University of Oxford declined to say whether a request from UK ministers to include Union flags on the vaccine had been made while Astrazeneca did not respond to requests for comment.

The vaccine being developed in the UK has been found to be highly effective in advanced trials and it is cheaper and easier to transport than others in the late stages of development. 

UK regulators have been asked to assess the vaccine and it is hoped that millions of doses will be ready by the end of the year. The UK Government has pre-ordered 100m doses.

Vaccines are being procured by the UK Government for use across the UK, with the Scottish health service to receive a “population share” - around eight per cent - of doses. How it will be rolled out north of the border will be decided by SNP ministers.

A spokesman for the SNP said: “If true these reports suggest utter desperation from the Tories.

"The creation of a vaccine is a global effort with scientists and countries coming together to share their expertise to tackle Covid-19.

"Politicians of all kinds should be focussed on getting the vaccine to the right people at the right time."

The Number 10 Union Unit has reportedly been formed to ensure there is a dedicated team at the heart of Government aimed at countering a rise in support for independence. 

The SNP is hoping to claim a mandate at next year’s election for a second vote on leaving the UK, although Tory ministers have insisted any request to hold a referendum would be rejected under any circumstances.

Asked about reports around the request for flags to be printed on vaccines, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said there were “no plans” for the Union Jack to be printed on packaging. However, he declined two invitations to deny that the request had been made by the Union Unit.

He told reporters: "There are no plans for the Union Jack to be on doses. We've said previously the manufacturing for some of the leading potential vaccines is already under way so they can be rolled out quickly if and when approved.

"Manufacturers are well versed in the best ways to package products like this."