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Covid vaccine row: Has the UK really blocked vaccine export? Boris Johnson issues truth

PMQs: Boris Johnson rejects EU’s claim about vaccine exports

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Post-Brexit relations between the UK and EU took another turn for the worse this week when the European envoy in London was summoned to explain his comments that the UK had issued a vaccine export ban. The UK was baffled by European Council President Charles Michel claim that Britain had “imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines”. It called for a meeting to discuss the allegations. Mr Michel accused the UK of “vaccine nationalism” on Tuesday by banning the jabs leaving the country. Mr Michel said he was “shocked” to hear the EU had been accused of the very same thing after it blocked a shipment of vaccines leaving for Australia from Italy last week.

He said: “The EU has never stopped exporting. The facts do not lie.

“The United Kingdom and the United States have imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced on their territory.

“But the European Union, the region with the largest vaccine production in the world, has simply put in place a system for controlling the export of doses produced in the EU.

“Our objective is to prevent companies from which we have ordered and pre-financed doses from exporting them to other advanced countries when they have not delivered to us what was promised.”

Has the UK really blocked vaccine exports?

Britain had a quick retaliation to Mr Michel’s comments, saying it has not blocked the export of a single COVID-19 vaccine.

A UK Government spokesperson said: “Any reference to a UK export ban or any restrictions on vaccines are completely false.”

Mr Johnson also issued a response to Mr Michel during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday morning.

During his weekly appearance in the Commons, the Prime Minister said he wanted to “correct” Mr Michel.

He told MPs: “Let me be clear, we have not blocked the export of a single vaccine or vaccine component.”

Denying the claims, Mr Johnson added: “We oppose vaccine nationalism in all its forms.”

Last month, the EU exported 25million doses of the vaccine to 31 countries, with the UK and Canada being in receipt of the most, according to a report by the New York Times.

When asked by reporters in Brussels, European Commission spokesperson Eric Mamer refused to comment directly on his colleague’s remarks.

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He said: “We know that different countries have got different measures in place – this doesn’t concern vaccines as far as we understand, coming from the UK.

“But we know as well that we, the EU, are a very, very active exporter of vaccines and this is not necessarily the case of all our partners.”

On Wednesday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps accused senior EU politicians of damaging the vaccine rollout by making “misleading” statements that have cast doubt on the efficacy of AstraZeneca’s jab.

Mr Shapps said fewer Brits had taken up the offer of vaccines in the UK after EU figures questioned how effective the Oxford vaccine was – a clear reference to destructive comments made by French President Emmanual Macron. 

Mr Shapps told Times Radio: “Unfortunately, there has been a number of different statements made out of Europe, including misleading information on the effectiveness of some of these vaccines, which eventually have been unwound.

“But not until they have done damage to the number of people, the uptake on some of the vaccines, which I think is all very unfortunate.”

The Transport Secretary added: “We just need to get on and vaccinate people. We want the rest of the world to vaccinate as well.”

Mr Michel appeared to backtrack on his initial comments within hours, tweeting he was “glad if the UK reaction leads to more transparency and increased exports”.

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