Ursula von der Leyen was sitting in her converted flat next to her office in the EU’s palatial HQ in Berlaymont when the phone started ringing.
It was Friday evening, around 9.20pm, and on the line was the British Prime Minister.
Boris Johnson was demanding to know why the EU had invoked Article 19 of the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol, effectively blocking imports of Covid vaccines through the Irish Republic to the UK.
At 9.50pm – about half an hour after the call had concluded – Number 10 issued a damning account of that call, saying that the PM “expressed his grave concerns about the potential impact which the steps the EU has taken today on vaccine exports could have”.
An hour after their call – around 10.30pm London time – Mrs Von der Leyen called back making clear to Mr Johnson that the EU would not disrupt vaccine supplies into the UK.
Number 10 stressed there were no raised voices on the calls, but it was a torrid end to what had been a dreadful few days for the EU – days had seen the Commission accused of trying to bully the UK and drugs companies into giving up Britain’s share of precious vaccines.
Mr Johnson and his team in London had caught wind of the Commission’s plans earlier last week, but chose to adopt a low key approach, arranging for a call between Matt Hancock, the Health secretary, and his counterpart in Brussels on Wednesday.
By Friday morning the talks had “gone up a notch” and the emerging crisis was discussed at the Prime Minister’s 8.30am meeting in Number 10.
Although officials had been gaming what the Commission might do and how the UK would respond the response from the Commission to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol still came as a shock.
Following a meeting between Mr Johnson and his senior officials Number 10 made public the concerns in London, saying they did not expect the EU – a “friend and ally” – would do “anything to disrupt the fulfilment of these contracts.”
Mr Johnson decided to call Micheal Martin, the Irish Prime Minister, to discuss the Commission’s actions. Again concerns about peace in Northern Ireland were raised and the PM stressed the UK’s enduring commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.
Mr Johnson then phoned Mrs von der Leyen.
By now the warnings about threats to the Good Friday Agreement had been heard in Washington DC, where sources said the White House was urgently trying to clarify what the move would mean.
In the face of such raw anger and growing international concern, Brussels backed down.
Just before midnight UK time on Friday Ms Von der Leyen posted a message on Twitter saying she agreed with Mr Johnson not to add restrictions to vaccine exports.
It was a week that began very differently. Brussels had been determined to force AstraZeneca to its knees. It ended, however, with the European Union humiliated.
Mrs von der Leyen was facing calls to resign on Saturday, and fierce criticism in her home country of Germany.
It was after all the Commission President who, having taken personal charge of the AstraZeneca issue, and was now seen to have badly botched the response to the pharmaceutical company’s failure to fulfil EU orders of jabs.
By moving to impose a “vaccine border” on the island of Ireland she was seen as having trashed the bloc’s reputation worldwide and sacrificed the moral high ground the Commission had taken over the Irish border during the Brexit negotiations.
Her decision to trigger Article 16 of the Brexit treaty’s Northern Irish protocol, achieved the once unimaginable feat of uniting an unimpressed Michel Barnier, Irish prime minister Micheál Martin and Boris Johnson against her.
Mrs von der Leyen may have ordered a U-turn late on Friday and blamed the crisis on “an oversight”, but the damage was done.
It should have been very different. Brussels had planned for the first AstraZeneca jabs to be rolled out across the bloc once the European Medicines Agency approved the vaccine on Friday.
The European Commission, which negotiated the supplies on behalf of the 27 member states, would use the delivery as a symbol of the benefits of EU unity.
The inconvenient fact that the EU’s vaccination roll-out was lagging far behind Brexit Britain would soon be forgotten in a flood of up to 400 million jabs; enough to vaccinate about half of all EU citizens.
The day couldn’t come soon enough for the EU’s heads of state and government, who had decided not to use the emergency authorisation procedures Britain used to fast-track the approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Commissioners in Brussels sneered that this was a safer, more responsible route than that taken by Boris Johnson.
Many EU governments had chosen not to buy doses of rival vaccines, preferring to wait for the cheaper and easier to store jab from the British-Swedish company.
The slower pace was, however, exacting a political price on the bloc’s national leaders.
Polls in France showed Marine Le Pen trailing Emmanuel Macron by just 48 to 52 in second round voting intentions for next year’s presidential elections.
While the UK has distributed 11.86 jab doses per 100 people, France, where anti-vax beliefs have taken root, has only managed 2.08.
European newspapers were reporting that Mr Johnson’s vaccine gamble had paid off, which they said was a source of great frustration to the French.
Perhaps that is what motivated Mr Macron to trash the AstraZeneca vaccine, saying it was “almost ineffective for those over 65, and some say over 60”.
The cynical ploy came on Friday, the same day that the European Medicines Authority approved the vaccine for all ages, despite an earlier decision by German regulators to restrict it to the over 65s.
The German government was also facing questions about why it was lagging so far behind the UK, US and Israel.
The strain was showing elsewhere in Europe as well. The normally docile Dutch erupted into days of rioting, their worst in 40 years.
The Italian government was tearing itself apart over the handling of the second coronavirus wave. On Tuesday, Italy’s prime minister Giuseppe Conte resigned as his coalition government collapsed.
The pressure was on the European Commission to deliver, which explains the furious reaction after AstraZeneca broke the news that there would be a shortfall in the supply.
The company would only be able to deliver a quarter of the jabs promised in the first quarter of the year, it said. There would be about 75 million vaccines missing because of production problems at its Belgian plant.
Mrs von der Leyen was determined that the member states would not point the finger of blame for the delays at her commission and so the decision was made to launch a full frontal, and unprecedented, attack on AstraZeneca.
Suspicions grew in Brussels that AstraZeneca may have sold reserved EU vaccine stock to countries such as Britain, which they claimed had paid a higher price for the jab.
Despite the fact that AstraZeneca was providing the vaccine at cost price, the story was given legs by the Brussels spin machine. Their message was clear; this was not our fault.
Diplomats from the EU’s capitals in the Belgian capital began circulating news stories from last year, when the UK signed a deal with AstraZeneca first.
AstraZeneca had imported millions of vaccines from its EU plants to compensate for a delay in production of UK supplies of the jab. Perhaps these were jabs meant for the bloc, the anonymous briefers suggested.
The commission, which prides itself on its legal expertise and respect for the rule of law, turned the screws on AstraZeneca, accusing it of breaching its contract with Brussels.
Mrs von der Leyen gave Pascal Soriot, the CEO of AstraZeneca, a dressing down in a morning phone call. It was the first of three grillings for the boss, who was summoned to further two video conference meetings with the EU and national officials later that day.
Then Stella Kyriakides, the European commissioner for health and food safety, dropped a bombshell. Brussels would introduce an “export transparency mechanism” by the end of the week, Ms Kyriakides said.
Cyprus’s EU commissioner said that manufacturers in the EU would have to ask Brussels for permission before exporting vaccines out of the bloc.
The threat of an EU export ban was clear. Britain, less than a month out of the Brexit transition period and expecting almost 3.5 million vaccines from Pfizer’s Belgian plant, was in the firing line.
It was the first of many signals that, as far as the commission was concerned, British public opinion of Brussels simply no longer mattered.
On Tuesday, AstraZeneca’s CEO hit back. There was no contractual obligation to supply the vaccines beyond an obligation on the company to make “best reasonable efforts” to provide it, he said.
The company’s two production plants in Britain could help with the EU supply but, under the terms of the supply contract with the UK, only after a British order of 100 million jabs had been supplied.
An infuriated Brussels hit back hard on Wednesday. It demanded that AstraZeneca divert supplies of millions of UK-manufactured vaccines to the bloc and accused Mr Soriot of breaching confidentiality by revealing details of the contract.
Ms Kyriakides said the firm had “contractual, societal and moral obligations” to use all its facilities to make up the shortfall, and that there was “no hierarchy of factories”.
MEPs began to talk of a vaccine trade war unless the pharma company caved to the demands. Meanwhile Mr Johnson was looking like the only adult in the room.
On Thursday, Belgian authorities, acting on a European Commission request, raided AstraZeneca’s plant in the French-speaking region in Wallonia.
The reason was to see if the company’s explanation of production problems was genuine but another motivation was to keep the pressure on the company.
Having secured AstraZeneca’s permission to release a redacted version of its contract with the EU, Mrs von der Leyen had a salvo planned for Friday.
After the contract was released, the commission pointed to clauses it claimed supported its arguments.
In one, AstraZeneca appeared to confirm that no other agreement would interfere with its supplies. Another clause said that, for the purposes of the deal, the two UK factories should be considered part of the EU.
But eyebrows were raised as Mrs von der Leyen had, that very day, said there were no “best endeavours” clauses in the contract. The published deal, which in another sign the wheels were coming off, was accidentally released unredacted. It had those clauses.
She either told an intentional lie to 447 million people or she didn’t know what was in her own contract, Germany’s Bild Zeitung said on Saturday.
As EU officials demanded Britain publish its contract with the pharma company, there was growing disquiet among some member states the commission was going too far.
But despite the warnings of her own trade experts over the triggering of Article 16, Mrs von der Leyen was set on imposing the hard vaccine border on the island of Ireland.
Among the voices arguing against the move was Sabine Weyand, the EU’s top official on trade and former deputy Brexit negotiator. She was the woman who designed the Irish border backstop during the Brexit talks, which was ultimately ditched in favour of a regulatory and customs border in the Irish Sea.
In an astonishing gaffe, Mrs von der Leyen only informed Ireland she was triggering one of the most sensitive clauses in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement after the announcement.
She also did not give notice to Britain about the move, which was meant to prevent Northern Ireland becoming a backdoor entry of vaccine supplies to the UK.
Considering that the European Commission had spent the previous four years preaching the importance of open borders and peace on the island of Ireland, as well as criticising any suggestion from Britain of using the clause, it was an astonishing move.
It wasn’t long before both the Irish and British prime ministers were on the phone to Mrs von der Leyen, both urging a change of tack.
So it was that at 11.45pm local time, about eight hours after the announcement, a statement was released saying that Article 16 , the so-called safeguard clause, would not be triggered after all.
What Mrs von der Leyen planned as a show of strength and a reassertion of control had demonstrated anything but.
The European press was unforgiving, describing it as the “Brexit own goal” and potentially Mrs von der Leyen’s greatest failure.
As one EU diplomat told the Telegraph: “The pressure on von der Leyen is huge and increasing. This is not a good look.”
The question for Britain this weekend is how will Mr Johnson use the moral high ground he has gained in the row over vaccine supplies, perhaps to improve Brexit relations with Brussels?
One Government source said: “There is a window of opportunity and we want to work together, we want things to get better.”