PMQs: Boris Johnson rejects EU’s claim about vaccine exports
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Eurocrats were forced to concede they’d got it wrong after Dominic Raab asked them to “set the record straight”. The furious Foreign Secretary even summoned one of the bloc’s most senior diplomats in London to the Foreign Office to discuss the row. European Council President Charles Michel sparked fury in Whitehall on Tuesday night after he accused the Government of “vaccine nationalism” with an “outright ban on the export of vaccines”.
The Belgian’s outrageous slur added further tension to the UK’s already fractious post-Brexit relationship with the EU.
It even prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to slap down the top eurocrat’s “incorrect” claim at PMQs.
Despite Mr Michel’s refusal to apologise, officials close to him were slowly backtracking on his claims.
And eurocrats even suggested they were about to ramp up their own export ban to prevent any vaccines from leaving the bloc.
A source close to Mr Michel said: “He didn’t get it quite right.”
A European Commission spokesman refused to apologise for the allegations against Britain but admitted they were incorrect.
He said: “Different countries have got different measures in place. This does not concern vaccines, as far as we understand, coming from the UK.
“But we know as well that we, the EU, are a very very active exporter of vaccines and that this is not necessarily the case of all our partners.”
Responding to Mr Michel’s allegations, the Prime Minister told MPs on Wednesday: “The whole House can be proud of the UK’s vaccination programme with over 22.5 million people having received their first dose across the UK.
“We can also be proud of the support the UK has given to the international Covid response, including the £548 million we’ve donated to COVAX.”
Mr Johnson added: “I, therefore, wish to correct the suggestion from the European Council President that the UK has blocked vaccine exports. Let me be clear, we have not blocked the export of a single COVID-19 vaccine or vaccine components.
“This pandemic has put us all on the same side in the battle for global health. We oppose vaccine nationalism in all its forms. I trust that all sides of the House in rejecting this suggestion and calling on all our partners to work together to tackle this pandemic.”
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Brussels unveiled its so-called export transparency mechanism in late January after it complained that AstraZeneca was prioritising deliveries to the UK over member states.
It claimed the Anglo-Swedish firm’s contract with Britain, which gives us first refusal on any domestic-made jabs, is “tantamount to an export ban”.
Under the EU’s export ban, pharmaceutical giants must apply before sending vaccines abroad.
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Eurocrats have already used the measure, due to expire at the end of the month, to confiscate a shipment of 250,000 AstraZeneca jabs from Italy to Australia.
Asked whether the draconian measure could be ramped up further, a spokesman said: “You’ll have to wait and see what the Commission decides.
“The current mechanism expires at the end of this month, and definitely all options are on the table.”
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