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Boris Johnson to call on EU leaders to veto vaccine export blocks

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leads colleagues including Cabinet Secretary Simon Case (left), across Downing Street as they arrive for the government's weekly Cabinet meeting at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). - Credit: PA

Boris Johnson is expected to ask European leaders this week to dismiss any proposals to block coronavirus vaccine exports to the UK.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has ramped up the rhetoric this weekend, saying the EU has the power to “forbid” exports, adding: “That is the message to AstraZeneca.”

The warning reflects growing frustration on the continent that the EU is not getting the supplies it expected from the British-Swedish manufacturer.

The prime minister is expected to contact his EU counterparts ahead of virtual summit on Thursday where European leaders are due to consider the matter, the Financial Times reported.

Government sources said Johnson spoke to Von der Leyen, along with Dutch and Belgian prime ministers Mark Rutte and Alexander De Croo last week.

He may speak to other EU leaders over the coming days, the government source added.

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Meanwhile, Ireland’s commissioner Mairead McGuinness said no decisions have been made over any potential vaccine export block.

It comes as Johnson celebrated “a record-breaking day for the vaccine rollout” in the UK after 844,285 jabs were given to members of public on Saturday.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “In just one day we vaccinated the equivalent of the entire adult populations of Liverpool, Southampton and Oxford combined.”

Meanwhile, McGuinness told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show that European citizens were “growing angry and upset” that the vaccine rollout had “not happened as rapidly as we had anticipated”.

She said: “Both the EU and the UK have contracts with AstraZeneca and my understanding is the company is supplying the UK but not the European Union.

“We are supplying the UK with other vaccines, so I think this is just about openness and transparency.”

Defence secretary Ben Wallace hit back by warning the manufacture of the Pfizer vaccine depends on supplies from the UK.

“The grown-up thing would be for the European Commission and some of the European leaders to not indulge in rhetoric but to recognise the obligations that we all have,” he said.

“We will all hold each other to our contracts.

“Making a vaccine is like baking a cake.

“We all have different ingredients and the European Commission will know that.

“You pointed out the point about Pfizer.

“They will know you wouldn’t want to cut off your nose to spite your face.”

Speaking earlier on Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, he said the EU would suffer “severe reputational” damage if it tried interfering with vaccine exports.

“If contracts and undertakings get broken, that is a very damaging thing to happen for a trading bloc which prides itself on the rule of law,” he said.

“It would be counterproductive because the one thing we know about vaccine production and manufacturing is that it is collaborative.

“If we start to unpick that, if the commission were to start to do that, I think they would undermine not only their citizens’ chances of having a proper vaccine programme, but also many other countries around the world with the reputational damage to the EU, I think, they would find very hard to change over the short term.”

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