EU Looks To Avoid Vaccine Bust-Up And Agree Deal To Share Dutch Jabs With The UK
The European Union is keen to reach a negotiated outcome with the UK over vaccine exports and avoid the major diplomatic row that would arise from a ban.
A Brussels source told PoliticsHome that the bloc was hopeful it would not be forced to implement a block on coronavirus jabs produced on the continent going to the UK.
Boris Johnson on Sunday spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of a crunch meeting of EU leaders later this week.
The Prime Minister has also sent Tim Barrow, the former UK ambassador the EU, to Europe in an attempt to reach a negotiated outcome with European leaders, according to The Financial Times.
A vaccine export ban would threaten to disrupt the UK's rollout and do more damage to UK-EU relations, which are already strained by post-Brexit rows over issues like the Northern Ireland Protocol.
European leaders are under intense pressure to ramp up the vaccine rollout in EU member states, with allies like the UK and the United States much further ahead in their own programmes.
They have expressed concerns over recopricity, pointing to the fact that the UK has imported around a quarter of its coronavirus jabs from the continent, but exported none to Europe.
Talks between the UK and EU are focused on a plant in Holland producing AstraZeneca jabs.
The Halix plant in the Dutch city of Leiden has not yet received regulatory approval from the EU.
However, it is expected to do so in the next few weeks — possibly before the end of the month — and the bloc is determined to secure what it says is a fair share of jabs it produces.
A Dutch diplomat told Politico that Holland was ready to support an outright ban on vaccine exports to the UK if the latter did not agree to share jabs with EU member states.
But in a sign that the two sides were moving closer to an agreement, Bloomberg reported on Monday that Brussels officials had discussed sharing jabs produced at the Halix plant with the UK.
The EU believes that both itself and the UK have valid claims to those jabs, the report added.
Merkel on Sunday suggested that a negotiated outcome was her prefrence, telling reporters that the EU "must be very careful with general export bans at this stage" and "instead we will have to look very closely at supply chain".
Ireland's European Affairs Minister Thomas Byrne told Politico that Ireland was "very, very cautious" about a possible export ban. "The minute we start bringing in export bans, I think ultimately it won’t be to the benefit of citizens," he said.
Prime Minister Johnson on Monday said he had been "reassured by talking to EU partners over the last few months that they don’t want to see blockades".
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace over the weekend warned European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that a blockade would be "counterproductive" and said "the world is watching" the bloc.