Macron backs Von der Leyen’s vaccine threat as UK warns of ‘significant consequences’

AstraZeneca: Expert criticises Merkel and Macron

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EU leaders are divided on the European Commission’s plan to halt batches of the vaccine en route to Britain in a bid to force the former member state to send UK-manufactured AstraZeneca shots to the bloc. After Ms von der Leyen went public with her plan on Wednesday, the French president said: “I support the announcements made by the president of the European Commission in this matter.”

The Commission’s boss warned the EU wanted “to see reciprocity and proportionality in exports and we are ready to use whatever tool we need to deliver on that”.

She stressed her plan “about making sure that Europe gets its fair share.”

At a meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels on Thursday morning to discuss the proposals, Germany, Italy and Denmark were also said to be in favour of the threat, according to The Telegraph.

But other member states erred on the side of caution and expressed concern over possible risks of an all-out vaccine war.

Representatives of Ireland, Belgium, Poland, Sweden and the Netherlands were said to have appeared sceptical, reports suggest.

Within hours of Ms von der Leyen unveiling her plot to hit UK supplies of the Pfizer jab holes began to appear.

UK-based chemicals group Croda makes ingredients needed for the vaccine and ships them across the Channel to Pfizer.

If the bloc prevents shipments of the Pfizer vaccine from reaching Britain, Boris Johnson could retaliate with a ban on the export of key ingredients, it has been claimed.

Reaction to the EU’s threat in Britain was swift and stern.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, warned: “There are very significant consequences for breaking contract law.”

And Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, accused Brussels of “brinkmanship”.

He said both UK and EU have long said it would be “wrong to curtail or interfere with lawfully contracted supply” of coronavirus vaccines.

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He said Ms von der Leyen’s threat “cuts across the direct assurances we had from the Commission”.

Mr Raab said he was “surprised” at the bloc’s behaviour and urged the Commission president to explain herself.

He added: “Frankly, I’m surprised we’re having this conversation.

“It’s normally what the UK and the EU team up with to object with other countries with less democratic regimes than our own [who] engage in that kind of brinkmanship.”

On Thursday a string of European nations announced they would resume use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine days after it was ground to a screeching halt amid concerns over side effects.

The European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) “clear” conclusion following an investigation into 30 cases of unusual blood disorders was that the vaccine’s benefits in protecting people from coronavirus-related death or hospitalisation outweighs the possible risks.

However, the body said a link between blood clots in the brain and the shot could not be definitively ruled out.

But it stressed the jab manufactured in Britain was “safe and effective” for use.

Within hours of the announcement, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Latvia and Lithuania indicated they would start using doses of the vaccine again.

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