Vaccine row: UK 'playing game of poker' with EU says expert
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German Bernd Lange, chairman of the EU Parliament’s trade committee, claimed Downing Street had not provided evidence to prove it is not covertly preventing doses from leaving the country. His remarks came after European Council President Charles Michel said the UK has an “outright ban” on jab exports to the bloc. The top eurocrat’s outburst prompted a furious response from Prime Minister Mr Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who ordered the EU to withdraw the accusation.
Mr Lange said: “Relations with Great Britain are very tense.
“This is because London has so far not provided any evidence of vaccine exports.
“I therefore consider it plausible that the vaccine from the British AstraZeneca plants will only go to Great Britain, but not – as provided for in the contract – to Europe.
“But the EU Commission still has to provide precise data. Then we will see whether Michel’s accusation is true or not.”
Mr Michel refused to withdraw his claim even after one of the bloc’s top foreign diplomats in London was summoned to the Foreign Office for a dressing down.
The Council chief said: “We know, and I know because I am a politician, that there are different ways to impose a ban or to impose restrictions on vaccines. How many doses did they export?
“This is a very simple question, and since yesterday I haven’t heard the answer to this very simple question.”
Mr Michel was responding to the Prime Minister’s condemnation of his earlier claim that Britain has an “outright ban” on vaccines being sent abroad.
Brussels is furious that Britain has first refusal on all doses of the Oxford/ AstraZeneca vaccine produced domestically while it insists the firm has failed to deliver enough jabs to member states.
Mr Raab wrote to Mr Michel seeking to correct the record and a senior EU diplomat was summoned to the Foreign Office on Wednesday.
Amid the row, the EU’s ambassador to London urged both sides to “give up on trying to score points” and try to rebuild trust.
Joao Vale de Almeida said that he wanted there to be the “best possible relationship” between Britain and the EU post-Brexit amid disputes over trade arrangements.
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He said the UK and EU had a “special relationship” as he called for the two sides to focus on making the agreements already reached work.
Mr Vale de Almeida said: “I think we need to make an effort to change the mindset and give up on trying to score points … and focus ourselves on what we can do for making out of the agreements that we made – the Withdrawal Agreement on one side and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement on the other.
“With coherence, with consistency and with common willingness to move together…
“For all that we need to have high levels of trust – mutual trust.
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“Trust is maybe the most important commodity in international agreements.
“When there is no trust, when levels of trust go down, you are less capable of finding solutions.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s vaccine export ban, which she has hinted will be used to target AstraZeneca, was yesterday extended until the end of June.
The draconian measure was used by Italy earlier this month to prevent a shipment of 250,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab to Australia.
It came as seven EU countries halted the use of the inoculation over unsubstantiated concerns it could be behind blood clots.
Italy, Estonia, Denmark, Luxembourg, Latvia, Austria and Lithuania banned it but the Netherlands and Sweden came out in support of the Oxford shot.
Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg
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