Boris Johnson has responded to claims by the President of the European Council who accused the UK of banning exports of COVID-19 vaccines.
The new dispute over vaccine nationalism between the UK and the EU was reignited on Tuesday by an article written by Charles Michel in which he said: “The facts do not lie. The United Kingdom and the United States have imposed an absolute ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced in their territory.”
The British prime minister moved to “correct the suggestion” of the EU leader, a former Belgian prime minister, in parliament on Wednesday.
“Let me clarify that we have not blocked the export of a single COVID-19 vaccine or vaccine components,” Johnson told the House of Commons. “This pandemic has put us all on the same side in the battle for global health. We oppose vaccine nationalism in all its forms.”
He also told MPs that the government was proud of the UK’s support for the international response to the pandemic, including £ 548 million (€ 639 million) donated to the global COVAX initiative.
The prime minister’s rebuttal follows an earlier outright rejection by London of the EU’s claims.
“The British government has never blocked the export of a single vaccine. Any reference to a UK export ban or any restriction on vaccines is completely false,” a government spokesman said on Tuesday.
EU envoy summoned in London
An EU source confirmed to Euronews that a representative in London had been summoned to a meeting with an official from the UK Foreign Office (FCDO) on Wednesday morning.
It is understood that EU Charge d’Affaires Nicole Mannion was to be received by Philip Barton, Permanent Under Secretary of the FCDO, at 8.30am London time.
The source said that the British government had summoned the EU ambassador, João Vale de Almeida, adding that he is currently not in London. He also cited the UK’s refusal to grant the ambassador full diplomatic status as a factor in the decision to send a lower-ranking envoy.
Charles Michel appeared to qualify his comments on vaccine exports later Tuesday, tweeting that there were “different ways to impose bans or restrictions on vaccines / drugs.”
“I am delighted if the UK’s reaction leads to greater transparency and increased exports to the EU and third countries,” said the President of the EU Council.
But on Wednesday, a German MEP stepped in to support Michel on his original claim.
“We know that significant amounts of the AstraZeneca vaccine went from the mainland to the UK,” said Peter Liese, one of the leading parliamentary experts on the subject. He stated that “for example, from the Dessau IDT Biologika plant in Dessau, Germany, and the company is still not ready to give the vaccine that is produced in the UK to supply the European Union.”
The AstraZeneca company has denied that it has distributed vaccines that were destined for the EU to any other destination.
In a strong defense of the bloc’s vaccination program in his article, Charles Michel said he was “shocked” by accusations of vaccine nationalism against the EU, following the establishment of a mechanism to control exports of vaccines produced in its territory.
The EU “never stopped exporting” and “most” of the doses that allowed mass vaccination in Israel came from Belgium, said the top official of the European Council, the EU body that represents national leaders.
The “EU is providing vaccines for its citizens and the rest of the world,” Michel added in his tweet.
Last week, a Commission spokeswoman told Euronews: “The EU remains a leading supplier of vaccines worldwide. During the period from January 30 to March 1, the member approved 174 export applications. requested in the context of the Regulations. States “.
The row follows the January dispute
The UK leads the rest of Europe in administering the first doses of vaccination, while the EU, and some individual countries, have faced criticism for the slow rollout of vaccination campaigns across the bloc.
By March 8, the UK had hit 33% of the population first, compared with 6.5% in the EU, according to the Oxford University project. Our world in data. However, the EU leads in terms of second doses administered, with 3% of the population inoculated compared to 1.7% in the UK.
It is the second time this year that a dispute has broken out between the UK and the EU over the supply of vaccines, and the latest of several bitter clashes since the practical effects of Brexit began earlier in the year.
Amid a dispute with manufacturer AstraZeneca over supplies in January, the EU briefly moved to activate controls on vaccine shipments to Northern Ireland, part of the UK, angering London.
The EU plan was quickly abandoned, but by invoking, even briefly, the emergency provisions under the Brexit divorce deal, it sparked a broader dispute over the agreements agreed to for Northern Ireland, which has experienced supply problems since Great Britain because of the new bureaucracy.
EU under pressure to accelerate deployment
The supply crisis also prompted the European Commission to adopt a regulation to control the export of coronavirus vaccines Made in the EU.
This week Italy moved to block a shipment of coronavirus vaccines bound for Australia, the first time the EU’s new export control mechanism has been used.
Deliveries to the European Union of COVID-19 vaccines should accelerate to 100 million doses per month from April, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Monday.
On Wednesday it also announced an agreement with BioNTech-Pfizer for the supply to EU countries of four million more doses of vaccines in March, “before the end of the month.”
On Tuesday the OECD issued a warning for Europe that slow vaccine launches threaten to slow the economy.
“In Europe, we are late. Not only are we not producing enough (vaccines), but also, even with the doses that we have in Europe, we are not using them. We must absolutely move to a war position,” the economist told Euronews. head of the OECD, Laurence Boone.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism