UK denies “false” EU claims as Covid vaccine dispute escalates

A UK national flag flies next to the European Union (EU) flags in front of the Berlaymont building in Brussels.

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LONDON – The European Union and the UK have argued over coronavirus vaccine exports, and the UK strongly denied it has not blocked shipments to other countries.

The latest battle came after the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, accused the UK on Tuesday of an “outright ban” on the export of Covid-19 vaccines.

In a newsletter, he said he was “shocked” to hear accusations of vaccine nationalism against the EU when other parts of the world, such as the UK and the US, “placed total bans” on these vaccines.

This was not the first time that European officials have spoken out on this issue. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said during a press conference in February that the United States and Britain have systems in place that block the export of vaccines.

However, the UK government quickly denied the allegations on Tuesday. “The UK government has not blocked the export of any single Covid-19 vaccine. Any references to a UK export ban or vaccine restrictions are completely wrong,” a government spokesman told CNBC.

The EU did not wait long for an answer. Michel, chairman of the meetings between the 27 EU heads of state, said on Twitter that there are “different ways to ban or restrict vaccines / drugs”.

“I am happy if the UK’s response leads to more transparency and higher exports,” he added.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will hold talks with EU officials on Wednesday to clarify the situation.

How they got here

Concerns about vaccine nationalism surfaced in late January – the idea that a country or region is doing its best to ensure it receives Covid-19 vaccines for its own people, even if it is to the detriment of other parts of the world.

The European Union, which has faced various problems when introducing vaccines, passed laws at the time allowing member states to stop exporting block-made Covid vaccines. However, this can only be used in two cases: when a pharmaceutical company does not fulfill the contracts with the EU and when the shocks go to countries that are not considered to be at risk. Low- and middle-income countries and neighboring countries are exempt from these restrictions.

These restrictions were first applied last week when Italy halted delivery of AstraZeneca lugs to Australia.

However, the EU has stated that it has not blocked the export of vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna as these companies have so far honored their commitments to the EU.

“I have long argued that the UK-EU relationship would be difficult after Brexit, but even I am surprised at how far and quickly it has sunk,” Eurasia Group CEO Mujtaba Rahman said on Wednesday via Twitter.

What else is going on

At the same time, the EU and Great Britain are arguing about their post-Brexit agreements.

The UK announced that it would extend the grace period for border controls in the Irish Sea – a commitment to the EU during the negotiations to leave the bloc that should have been completed by the end of March. Westminster has now given UK companies until October to prepare for new custom exams.

The EU has complained that this move was not discussed with them in advance and is currently preparing legal action against the UK government.

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