France Accuses UK of ‘Blackmail’ in Ongoing EU Vaccine Exports Tensions

An employee performs an air quality test at the Thermo Fisher plant, a supplier of AstraZeneca for the production of its Covid-19 vaccine, on February 10, 2021 in in Seneffe. (Photo by ERIC LALMAND / BELGA / AFP) / Belgium OUT (Photo by ERIC LALMAND/BELGA/AFP via Getty Images)
ERIC LALMAND/BELGA/AFP via Getty Images

France’s foreign minister has accused the United Kingdom of “blackmail”, as tensions between Brexit Britain and the European Union remain over drugs companies’ contractual obligations for coronavirus vaccine deliveries.

On Thursday, the government leaders of the EU27 stopped short of backing European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s proposal to block vaccine shipment exports under contract to the UK from Europe.

With the bloc’s ongoing delays to its inoculation programme, the trading alliance’s executive arm sought to ratify measures that would allow member states to seize vaccine doses made in the EU under contract for non-EU countries that are already well advanced in their vaccine programmes, and if drugs companies were deemed to be behind their contractual obligations with the EU.

The foreign minister for France, one of the countries pushing for the export ban, claimed on Friday that the UK was attempting to “blackmail” the EU, according to Yahoo! News.

Jean Yves le Drain told radio station France Info: “You can’t be playing like this, a bit of blackmail, just because you hurried to get people vaccinated with a first shot, and now you’re a bit handicapped because you don’t have the second one.”

The BBC noted that the foreign minister did not clarify what he meant by “blackmail”, but the British news outlet suspected it was related to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s remarks that British companies may be less inclined to invest in the EU if Brussels imposed detrimental export controls.

“I would just gently point out to anybody considering a blockade… that companies may look at such actions and draw conclusions about whether or not it is sensible to make future investments,” Mr Johnson said earlier this week.

The reputation of the European Union as a modern, globalist trading bloc would be at risk if it took action to seize goods from a private company produced under contract for another nation, former Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned this week.

Appearing to crticise his successor von der Leyen, Mr Juncker had said of the proposed blockade: “I’m not a fan of this idea. This could create major reputational damage to the EU, who used to be the world free-trade champion.”

Highlighting the importance of retaining a relationship with Brexit Britain, Juncker added: “I don’t think this is the right way to do it. We have to pull back from a vaccine war. Nobody understands why we’re witnessing such a stupid vaccine war. This cannot be dealt with in a war atmosphere. We are not in war and we are not enemies we are allies. We have special relations with Britain — there’s room for dialogue.”

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said on Friday that there was “no reason to worry” about the supply chain for second doses of the vaccine, saying: “We’re getting our vaccines from multiple manufacturers, from all over the world with complex international supply chains — none of them are reliant on any one factory or any one country.”

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