The European Union may block Covid-19 vaccines from being exported to the United Kingdom unless they start to see more shots being sent in the opposite direction, the European commission president has said.
Ursula von der Leyen said that the EU expected “to see reciprocity and proportionality in exports and we are ready to use whatever tool we need to deliver on that”, adding: “This is about making sure that Europe gets its fair share.”
The comments come amidst a growing row between the EU and its former member after vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca said it wouldn’t be able to deliver the number of shots originally promised to Brussels. The UK has been accused of putting self-interest first & hogging available supplies, something it firmly denies.
Von der Leyen said that 10 million vaccine doses had been shipped to the UK over the past six weeks, the majority manufactured by Pfizer. She went on to claim though that the EU were “still waiting for doses to come from the UK.”
The commission president went on to warn that the bloc could trigger article 122 of the EU treaty, which allows the use of special powers in exceptional circumstances. Triggering the article could potentially allow the EU to bring the vaccine manufacture process under direct control, allowing full jurisdiction over exports.
Von der Leyen’s comments elicited a strong response from the UK government.
“Frankly, I’m surprised we’re having this conversation,” Said Dominic Raab, UK foreign secretary. “It is normally what the UK and EU team up with to reject when other countries with less democratic regimes than our own engage in that kind of brinkmanship.”
The UK government has repeatedly denied imposing an export ban on vaccines, but accepts it has put measures in place to ensure that doses produced by AstraZeneca at UK sites are distributed within the UK as a priority.