EU says ‘zero’ Covid jabs will be sent to Britain – eurocrat threatens to blow up UK talks
Emmanuel Macron discusses the vaccine rollout in France
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Top eurocrat Thierry Breton said “zero” AstraZeneca immunisations would be sent across the Channel until the firm delivers more doses to member states. And he poured cold water on the EU-UK talks to avert a vaccine war, declaring: “There is nothing to negotiate”. Downing Street is keen to end the threat by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to block exports of vaccines and ingredients to the UK.
But Mr Breton insisted the ultimatum would remain in place until AstraZeneca was able to ship more jabs to EU nations.
France’s most senior eurocrat said production capacity at the firm’s Seneffe plant in Belgium and Halix factory in the Netherlands “more or less” matches expected deliveries to the EU, so must be reserved for the bloc.
“If AstraZeneca does more, we don’t have any issue, but as long as it doesn’t deliver its commitments to us, the doses stay in Europe – except for Covax,” he told the FT.
He added: “We are here again to make sure that the AstraZeneca contract with the EU is delivered – and, of course, we are here to also help our British friends.
“But we have nothing to negotiate.”
Brussels is furious at AstraZeneca after the firm slashed its expected deliveries to member states in recent months.
EU insiders have even accused the Anglo-Swedish pharma giant of using European factories to produce doses to fulfil its contract with Britain.
The drugs-maker initially pledged to deliver up to 120 million doses of the Oxford-produced jab in the first three months of the year, but ended up lowering its commitment to 30 million.
And then AstraZeneca chief Pascal Soriot said he would only supply 70 million vaccines in the second quarter – lower than the original 180 million expected delivery.
As a result of the row, Brussels is calling for the lion’s share of the Oxford vaccines made at the Halix plant in the Netherlands.
Downing Street officials were said to be exploring sharing the production capacities at the Leiden-based facility, which can produce five million jabs a month, as a possible compromise with the bloc.
They argue that the EU would likely be without the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine if it wasn’t for substantial investments by UK taxpayers.
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They have also stressed that the Pfizer plant in Belgium is heavily reliant on raw ingredients made and shipped by Yorkshire-based firm Croda International.
No 10 has dispatched Foreign Office diplomat Sir Tim Barrow to hold talks with senior Eurocrat Stephanie Riso to try to find a compromise.
She, who also worked on the Brexit negotiations, is seen in Brussels as a pragmatist rather than a hardliner.
Meanwhile Michel Barnier has called for an end to the jabs war.
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In his final speech as the bloc’s Brexit negotiator before standing down, he said: “It is true that the UK has a quicker vaccination rate compare to the EU.
“But the fight against COVID-19 is more than speed of vaccination, important as that is.”
He added: “We will all find strong and weaker points in how we managed this.
“But there is no place, in such a serious situation, for polemics and competition.”
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