Vaccine row: Expert says export ban would be a 'dangerous road'
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Hardline EU nations want the European Commission President to further toughen restrictions on Covid jabs being sent abroad amid growing anger over the bloc’s shambolic rollout. It comes as she is set to outline new plans for the EU’s so-called “Transparency and Authorisation Mechanism” ahead of a virtual summit of European leaders. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is an influential support of Brussels’ aggressive move to halt the export of jabs.
In a recent phone call with Boris Johnson, she rebuffed the Prime Minister’s attempts to broker a compromise offer to prevent a tit-for-tat vaccines war.
She vented fury that the EU had shipped more than 34 million doses overseas but received “almost nothing” in return from the UK or US.
She told Mr Johnson it was “right” for Mrs von der Leyen to explore ways to restrict shipment until AstraZeneca delivers more doses to member states.
France’s Emmanuel Macron is also expected to support the use of draconian measures against any attempt by drugs giant AstraZeneca to ship doses to Britain.
Europe minister Clement Beaune, a close ally of the French President, said: “This must be the strategy of a Europe that moves faster and defends its interests; produces more, enforce contracts and control exports.”
An EU ministerial source said it was “better late than never” the Commission was getting tough on the UK.
The insider said: “The EU should protect its citizens and ensure the vaccines are delivered as agreed with the suppliers “Producers failed to deliver multiple times, so it’s good now that the EU finally acts instead of just talking.”
An EU diplomat told the Politico website: “Until now, the EU has carried all the burden. Now the UK is interested in AstraZeneca imports from the EU, for which it needs an export permission.”
Italy and Denmark are also expected to support adopting the hardline measures when they are discussed by European leaders later this week.
There is growing anger that the Halix plant in the Netherlands, not yet authorised by the EU, is sitting on a stockpile of up to 10 million doses.
The factory is part of the AstraZeneca production line.
The jabs are destined to be sent to Britain with the facility not expected to be approved to distribute to member states for up to two weeks.
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The so-called “active ingredient” produced at the plant is later put into vials at two facilities in the UK.
Mrs von der Leyen was said to be pondering a complete blockade on any shipments being made from the Halix plant to Britain.
Mr Johnson is considering a diplomatic offer that would see the UK and EU share doses produced at the Dutch factory.
It could see Downing Street agree to free up production capacity at the plant, which currently only supplies the UK, to make jabs for the EU as well.
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The Prime Minister insists fellow leaders are assuring him they don’t want the row to escalate into a tit-for-tat trade war.
During a visit to Preston, Lancashire, yesterday, he said: “I’m reassured by talking to EU partners over the last few months that they do not want to see blockades, that’s very important.”
Mr Johnson is also expected to reach out to other leaders ahead of the EU summit on Thursday.
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