The European Union should step back from waging a “stupid vaccine war” with the UK, former European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has said.
He warned that threatening export bans could cause “major reputational damage” to the bloc as EU leaders held discussions on tightening restrictions to supplies of coronavirus jabs.
The commission has set out a tougher regime to stem supplies of jabs to nations faring better in the pandemic as the continent faced a third wave of cases.
Britain and Brussels are engaged in talks to resolve their dispute as the EU faces shortages from AstraZeneca.
Juncker, who was succeeded by Ursula von der Leyen in 2019, told the BBC’s Hardtalk: “I do think that we have to pull back from a vaccine war.
“I think that there is room for dialogue, for discussions, for developing arguments on both sides of the Channel.
“Nobody in Britain, nobody in Europe understands why we are witnessing such a, according to the news, a stupid vaccine war.
“This cannot be dealt with in a war atmosphere.
“I don’t like that.
“This has to be dealt with in an intense dialogue between the European Commission and the British government.
“We are not in war, and we are not enemies.
“We are allies.”
German chancellor Angela Merkel defended the plans ahead of a virtual summit of European leaders on Thursday and called for greater production of vaccines on the continent.
“We can see clearly that British facilities are producing for Great Britain.
“The United States is not exporting, and therefore we are dependent upon what can be produced in Europe,” she said.
Boris Johnson said the UK is “going to keep working with our EU partners and our friends” as diplomatic efforts continue.
“One thing I am firmly libertarian about is free trade and I don’t want to see blockades of vaccines or of medicines, I don’t think that’s the way forward either for us or for any of our friends,” he told reporters.
But in more pointed remarks health secretary Matt Hancock suggested the EU had not done such a good job as Britain in negotiating contracts with vaccine manufacturers.
“Our contract trumps theirs.
“It’s called contract law – it’s very straightforward,” he told the Financial Times.
Admitting it is a Covid-19 “hotspot”, the European Commission said it may not approve exports to nations with more advanced vaccine rollouts or where there is a better “epidemiological situation”.
The EU announced the move as it is embroiled in a row with AstraZeneca, but did not rule out Pfizer jabs being restricted to the UK if sufficient vaccines are not shipped to the bloc.
Member states were told to consider “reciprocity”, whether the destination country restricts its own vaccine exports, when authorising exports as the commission struck out against an alleged lack of British shipments.