Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to speak to EU leaders this week regarding proposals to ban the export of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines to the UK.
EU leaders are set to meet on Thursday (25 March) in a virtual summit to discuss the matter, but the Prime Minister is expected to call his EU counterparts individually before the meeting.
‘The one thing we know about vaccine production and manufacturing is that it is collaborative’
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has said the EU has the power to “forbid” exports, adding: “That is the message to AstraZeneca.”
This comes as frustrations begin to grow in the EU due to it not getting the supplies it expected from the British-Swedish manufacturer.
European leaders have recently faced criticism regarding the slow pace of the vaccine rollout on the continent, with less than 12 per cent of the EU's population reported to have received the vaccine, compared with a nearly 40 per cent vaccination rate in the UK.
Ireland’s commissioner, Mairead McGuinness, said no decisions have been made over any potential vaccine export block, but she told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show that European citizens were “growing angry and upset” that the rollout of the jab had “not happened as rapidly as we had anticipated”.
Ms McGuiness 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.”
However, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme that the EU would suffer “severe reputational” damage if it tried to interfere with exports of the vaccine.
Mr Wallace said: “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.
“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.”