EU Could Punish UK for Not Giving Up Vaccine Doses to Europe

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen arrives at the EU headquarters' Europa building in Brussels on December 10, 2020, prior to a European Union summit. (Photo by JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JOHN THYS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
JOHN THYS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The European Union’s revised vaccine export rules could target countries like Britain which have already succeeded in vaccinating large proportions of their populations.

Brussels’ “vaccine transparency mechanism” initially functioned to allow EU member states to block the export of vaccines out of the union if the drugs company was deemed to have failed to fulfil EU orders — even if contractually a shipment were intended for another country, such as Australia. So far, the United Kingdom has given at least one shot of the two-dose vaccines to more than half of its adult population, while the EU has managed only around 12 per cent on average.

The revised measures are set to also target countries that have not sent any vaccines to the EU, and while the European Commission would not name the United Kingdom specifically, Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis told The Telegraph on Wednesday that Britain would likely be one of the nations most affected by the change.

Mr Dombrovskis told media: “Our export authorisation mechanism is not addressed at any specific country. But it is clear that you need to ensure vaccination of our own population. We are in a sense behind. And if you look at the same time, despite the fact that EU is one of the global hotspots of the pandemic, the EU is also the largest exporter of vaccines.

“Just since the introduction of the export authorisation [in January] some 10m doses have been exported from the EU to the UK and zero doses have been exported from the UK to the EU. So, if we discuss reciprocity, solidarity and say global responsibility, it is clear that we also need to look at those aspects of reciprocity and proportionality.”

Domborvskis’s calls for “reciprocity” appear to be a form of diplomatic speak for Brussels demanding doses made in Britain — calls which the bloc had made in blunt terms earlier this year when a Commissioner’s spokesman said: “If UK plants are working better are we expecting UK plants to deliver doses to the EU? Yes, we do.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is reportedly pressuring British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to surrender Britain’s right of first refusal to vaccines made at AstraZeneca’s two British plants, claiming that the plants’ production constitutes EU supplies under their agreement.

The EU had sought to blame AstraZeneca for small yields from their European plants, even at one point raiding a vaccine plant in Belgium after accusing the drugs firm of sending doses meant for Europe to Britain.

AstraZeneca’s CEO said in January that British factories were ahead of EU ones because the British government had signed a contract months before Brussels had come to an agreement with the British-Swedish firm, which resulted in knock-on delays for European dose production.

Dombrovskis would not deny if exports of the Pfizer drug could be blocked; the Commission has already threatened to withhold AstraZeneca vaccines made in the Netherlands. According to The Guardian, an EU ban on vaccine exports to the United Kingdom would push Britain’s vaccination programme back by two months.

The measures are set to be discussed at an EU summit on Thursday, and if agreed, would go into force for the next six weeks.

Brexit leader Nigel Farage has said this week that if the EU follows through on its threats, Brexit Britain should stop sending “divorce” payments to the bloc.

Mr Farage said: “We’re still paying vast sums of money to an organisation that threatened to put a border back in Ireland, to an organisation that is taking a series of legal actions against us, to an organisation that has made exporting goods into the EU unnecessarily difficult — totally contrary to the spirit of the agreement.”

“I honestly think that the government should stop playing softly-softly with the European Union. They are being absolutely brutish and nasty to us, we just seem to lie down and take it every time… let’s now threaten them with this money,” he said.

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