Great Britain

Boris Johnson urges EU to show ‘common sense’ and ditch threat to block exports of Covid vaccines to UK

BORIS Johnson tonight urged Brussels to show "common sense" and drop its threat to block the exports of vaccines to Britain.

The PM insisted he has "total confidence in our supplies" of jabs and called on the EU to "honour all contracts" in a slap down to eurocrats.

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Speaking at a No 10 press conference he pointed out "the virus knows no borders" and fighting it is a global effort.

He said: "The creation of these vaccines has been a wonderful example of multinational cooperation.

"One of the lessons the world has to learn from the pandemic is the need to cooperate and to make sure we do things together and understand how to fight these pandemics together.

"So I don't want to see restrictions on the supply of PPE across borders, I don't want to see restrictions on the supply of drugs, and I don't want to see restrictions on vaccines or their ingredients across borders.

"I think that's pretty common sensical and I'm sure would be widely supported across the EU as well."

His intervention came after senior eurocrats voiced fears AstraZeneca supplied the UK from its European vaccine stock because we were willing to pay more per dose and granted approval for its use earlier.

A major row has erupted between the EU and the Anglo-Swedish drugs company after it announced supply chain problems mean it will have to cut deliveries to the bloc by 60% this quarter.

But sales to other countries including Britain aren't being affected, sparking accusations in Brussels that Europe is being given second-class treatment.

A furious EU Commission spokesman said today: "We see that doses are being delivered elsewhere and we know we’ve signed an agreement with AstraZeneca in August.

"Member States placed their orders around October and we’re now at the end of January, therefore we believe the doses should be basically available to be delivered."

An EU diplomat added: "There are people in Brussels who think that vaccines originally supposed to build up the EU vaccine stock and to be delivered to the EU after market authorisation have actually ended up in Britain."

Early batches of the vaccine used in Britain came from factories in the Netherlands and Germany, though the vast majority of it is expected to be made at factories in Oxfordshire and Staffordshire.

But sources at the Anglo-Swedish drug company insisted there was no basis to the claims the UK was getting special treatment and insisted the problems supplying the EU have been caused by its own sluggish jabs programme.

They pointed out the company had an extra three months to sort out how the supply to Britain would work because it signed the initial contract for doses much earlier.

One even told ITV: "I understand Brexit better now."

It came as:

The claims emerged after a furious minister slammed the EU over its "vaccine nationalism" after Brussels threatened to block the sale of lifesaving jabs to Britain.

Vaccines minister Nadim Zahawi warned eurocrats "no-one is safe until the whole world is safe" in a broadside at the bloc's move to control exports.

But he insisted he is fully confident that supplies to the UK of the crucial Pfizer and AstraZeneca doses won't be affected.

He said: "Vaccine nationalism is the wrong way to go. No one is safe until we're all safe.

"We need to work together rather than begin to muse policies of vaccine nationalism.

"That' my priority - to protect the British people, but also to protect the whole world. Because no one is safe."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned Brussels that "protectionism is not the right approach in the middle of a pandemic".

He said: "I'm sure we can work with the EU to ensure that while transparency is welcome that no blockers are put in place."

But Germany spearheaded calls for an "export restriction" on vaccines leaving the EU to make sure Europe gets its "fair share".

Health minister Jens Spahn said: “In a complex process like vaccine production I can understand if there are production problems, but then it has to affect everyone fairly and equally.

"This is not about EU First, this is about Europe's fair share, and that is why it makes sense from my point of view that we have an export restriction.

"This means that vaccines that leave the EU need a licence so that we know first of all what is produced in Europe, what leaves Europe, where it leaves Europe and whether this is a fair distribution."

But during a virtual speech to the Davos conference Angela Merkel warned that "a self-isolating approach won't solve our problems".

EU health chief Stella Kyriakides announced new rules last night that will make drugs companies notify Brussels before shipping jabs abroad.

Brussels denied that the bloc was engaging in vaccine nationalism and insisted it has no immediate plans to start blocking shipments.

But the EU Commission hinted there could be further action down the line.

Germany was also accused of fuelling vaccine scepticism with refuted claims the AstraZeneca jab is only 8% effective in over-65s.

Berlion sparked a major row with No 10 by briefing out the anonymous claim the AstraZeneca jab is ineffective for the elderly.

The reports were immediately dismissed as "completely incorrect" by the drugmaker which said it had supplied plenty of evidence proving otherwise.

But they prompted fury in Downing St, with one Whitehall insider branding the allegations "f***ing bonkers” and Russian-style disinformation.

Tory MP Damian Collins raised suspicions the briefing, attributed to government sources in Berlin, was linked to the EU's ongoing row with AstraZeneca over supplies of its jab.

He fumed: "Either way it is dangerous and irresponsible and only helps the anti vaccine movement."

The German health ministry distanced itself from the reports this morning and said there was no evidence to substantiate them.

It suggested the claims mixed up efficacy with the proportion of over-65s involved in the AstraZeneca trials.

Mr Zahawi refused to be drawn into open criticism of the EU, insisting: "We will always support them - they are our neighbours, our friends, our allies, our trading partners."

And the vaccines minister said he was confident supplies would not be affected by the astonishing move from Brussels.

But he admitted "supplies are tight" and "they continue to be" due to global demand for jabs.

He said: "Any new manufacturing process is going to have challenges, it's lumpy and bumpy. It gets better, it stabilises and improves going forward."

All of the Pfizer vaccine is made in Belgium, whilst some doses of the AstraZeneca jab are manufactured in the Netherlands and Germany.

But Mr Zahawi said: "I'm confident that AstraZeneca and Pfizer will both deliver for us the quantities that we need to meed our mid-February target and of course beyond that.

"Pfizer have made sure they always deliver to us, they will continue to do so.

"They've made a very important announcement on the equitable supply for the whole world including the EU and I"m sure they'll deliver for the EU and the UK and the rest of the world.

"We have got 367 million vaccines that we have ordered from seven different suppliers, so I'm confident we will meet our target and continue to vaccinate the whole of the adult population by the autumn."

Brussels boss Ursula von der Leyen defended the EU's move, insisting it shows the EU "means business" about protecting its own citizens.

In a virtual Davos speech, she said: "Europe invested billions to help develop the world‘s first COVID-19 vaccines, to create a truly global common good.

"And now, the companies must deliver. They must honour their obligations. This is why we will set up a vaccine export transparency mechanism. Europe is determined to contribute. But it also means business."

An emotional Mr Zahawi also revealed he has lost an uncle to Covid-19 recently.

He said: "It's painful, and it's closer to home than you think in terms of losing relatives and family.

"I lost my uncle last week to Covid, but, you're right, it is grim and horrible, but our way out of this is the vaccination programme."

He added: "It makes me angry, but it makes me determined to make sure we vaccinate the most vulnerable people in our country and protect them as quickly as possible and then protect the whole nation."

The EU's jaw-dropping announcement came after it got involved in an extraordinary row with AstraZeneca over the company's move to cut deliveries to Europe by 60%.

Furious eurocrats have accused the Anglo-Swedish company of diverting supplies to country's like the UK which have paid a higher price per dose.

AstraZeneca insists production problems at a factory in Belgium have hit its European supply line but left other customers like the UK unaffected.

French MEP Veronique Trillet-Lenoir said it was "unfair" that the UK was getting doses first, suggesting it was because it is paying more.

She said: "The EU Commission has been negotiating in the name of 27 states which made possible to have lower prices.

"Other countries including the UK and the US are paying a higher price. That is their choice, but it should not enter into the firm's decisions."

Piers Morgan slams vaccination fake news targeted at ethnic minorities

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