The EU’s ambassador to the U.K. denied the bloc is involved in “vaccine nationalism” but demanded more transparency from Britain as tensions simmer over the export of coronavirus jabs beyond borders.
“I refute completely the accusation that the EU is protectionist or has engaged in vaccine nationalism,” João Vale de Almeida told British broadcaster ITV’s Robert Peston on Wednesday night.
The EU has been criticized and at times accused of protectionism over a new vaccine export control mechanism it says is intended to ensure suppliers are fulfilling their contractual obligations.
European Council President Charles Michel claimed in a written rebuttal of that criticism Tuesday that the U.K. had imposed its own “outright” ban on the export of vaccines produced inside British borders. He issued a fresh plea for transparency from London on Wednesday in an interview with POLITICO.
But the claims have sparked anger from the British government, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab dismissing the suggestion as “completely false” in a letter to Michel, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain had “not blocked the export of a single COVID-19 vaccine or vaccine components.
Vale de Almeida told ITV Wednesday night that the war of words had “put transparency on the table” regarding the export of vaccines beyond borders.
“Vaccine producers can only be held to their commitments to supply doses if countries are transparent about exports,” Vale de Almeida said, speaking from Brussels. “This is why we support greater transparency … it is important that we know what is going on.”
Though Britain has not imposed a direct export ban on vaccines, the government’s contracts with vaccine producers have ensured Brits have received jabs at a quicker rate than other Europeans. EU leaders have claimed this achieves the same effect as an export ban and demanded more clarity on the inner workings of the contracts.
Statistics presented by the European Commission to EU diplomats on Wednesday show that as of March 9, some 9.1 million doses had been exported from the EU to the U.K., according to diplomats and officials who were briefed on the data.
The spat over vaccines comes amid a separate row between Britain and the EU over the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement’s Northern Ireland Protocol, following Britain’s move to unilaterally extend grace periods on some goods moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Vale de Almeida described the split with the U.K. as a “difficult divorce,” but said that it was wrong for the U.K. to have acted alone over the Northern Ireland checks and confirmed the EU would launch legal action in the “coming days.”
“There is absolutely no alternative to the Ireland/NI Protocol, and both sides need to work towards its full implementation,” he said.
Want more analysis from POLITICO? POLITICO Pro is our premium intelligence service for professionals. From financial services to trade, technology, cybersecurity and more, Pro delivers real time intelligence, deep insight and breaking scoops you need to keep one step ahead. Email [email protected] to request a complimentary trial.