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Johnson lobbies EU leaders to avoid vaccine export lockdowns

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will this week urge EU national capitals to veto a suggestion by Brussels that would block AstraZeneca vaccine exports to the UK and push post-Brexit relations to a new low .

London has claimed millions of doses of the Oxford / AstraZeneca Covid-19 jab produced at a Dutch factory, sparking a fierce battle with the European Commission, which says it should be used in the EU.

EU heads of government are preparing to decide at a summit starting on Thursday whether to continue the threat to stop exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine to the UK from the Halix site in the Netherlands.

British officials said Johnson would call his EU counterparts ahead of the leaders’ online meeting and that Emmanuel Macron, the French president, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, would likely be on his list.

An EU official said the bloc was “aware of the UK government’s active campaign to pressure certain member states”, citing Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany as examples.

The official added: “As in the past, seeking division among member states will not be successful.”

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, launched the idea of ​​tighter controls on EU medicines exports to vaccine-producing countries last week, in a move supposedly aimed at London.

“We have the option of banning a planned export,” she told German media group Funke over the weekend. “This is the message to AstraZeneca: you must first fulfill your contract with Europe before you start delivering to other countries.”

Johnson, who celebrated on Sunday a daily record out of 844,285 first and second vaccinations, there are fears that a cross-Channel dispute may more widely trigger vaccine protectionism across the world. EU accuses UK of stockpiling supplies.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told the BBC Andrew Marr program that trying to ‘build walls around this will only harm the citizens of the EU and the UK’.

While the European bloc has exported more than 10 million doses of various jabs to Britain in the past two months, it has not received any in return.

Frustration with London increased in European capitals as the UK vaccination campaign benefited from the steady supply of AstraZeneca, while the company reduced its early supply targets in its contract with the EU for doses of up to 400 million doses.

“We must have the principle of reciprocity between countries and appropriate proportionality,” Stella Kyriakides, European health commissioner, told the Financial Times in a video interview. “This is something that will be discussed with the leaders at the summit. . . and it is at this level that decisions will be made. ”

London has insisted that its deal with AstraZeneca to supply the UK with doses of 100million gives it an initial call for production from EU factories as well as UK factories.

But the EU is just as adamant that it is entitled to both the supply of AstraZeneca from Europe and a share of two UK factories also named as production sites in the contract as the European Commission signed with the company in August.

The United Kingdom signed a first agreement with the company several months earlier.

The EU’s idea of ​​tighter export controls has divided bloc member states, countries like the Netherlands and Belgium – both producers of coronavirus vaccines – over concerns about the risk of disrupting chains global supply.

Johnson has spoken to Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, and Alexander De Croo, his Belgian counterpart, in an attempt to avoid any EU summit decision to block shipments.

A Dutch official urged the UK to strike a deal with the Commission and AstraZeneca to avoid a ‘lose-lose scenario’.

Although the UK has not delivered finished vaccines to the EU, it has previously provided essential raw materials needed for the pioneering BioNTech / Pfizer mRNA vaccine made in the block.

One of the main targets of the EU-UK dispute is a stockpile of unknown size of the active ingredient in the AstraZeneca vaccine produced in the Netherlands by subcontractor Halix, according to UK and EU officials.

The plant does not have a regulatory clearance to supply the EU, although it was named as one of the block’s two main sources of production in the European Commission-AstraZeneca contract more than six months ago.

Kyriakides said the ball was “firmly in AstraZeneca’s court” to provide the data necessary for the authorization of the European Medicines Agency. She added that – if all went well – the factory could start delivering to the EU before the end of the month.

AstraZeneca previously said it expects to get EU regulatory approval for the Halix plant soon, and added that the schedule was “fully in line with expectations.” He did not comment on the UK’s claim regarding the supply of Halix.

Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AstraZeneca, said the overwhelming majority of its vaccine produced in the EU remained in the block.

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