EU chiefs declared vaccine war on Britain yesterday amid the bitter row over supplies.
Boss Ursula von der Leyen slapped controls on jab exports to Northern Ireland and demanded AstraZeneca divert up to 50 million UK doses to Europe.
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The EU’s smash-and-grab raid on doses of Covid vaccines was branded “an incredible act of hostility”.
In an extraordinary development, Brussels handed itself sweeping new powers to stop companies sending millions of vaccines across the channel.
And the bloc threatened to create a hard Irish border by putting up a trade barrier between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster raged: “This is an incredible act of hostility.
“The European Union has once again shown it is prepared to use Northern Ireland when it suits their interests but in the most despicable manner — over the provision of a vaccine designed to save lives.”
The EU’s double attack sparked a furious backlash, with MPs accusing Brussels of “bullying” to cover up their bungled vaccine roll-out.
But yesterday it emerged that senior EU figures have even floated the idea of a “war-time” occupation of vaccine makers that would allow the bloc to seize property and data from pharmaceutical firms.
No10 said it was urgently seeking an EU explanation over its vaccine export ban.
Downing Street warned it would not expect a “friend and ally” to get in the way of the jabs roll-out.
And it fired warning shots over the disruption on the Irish border after the EU effectively erected a vaccine trade blockade.
EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides claimed the new controls were needed for more “transparency”,
She said: “Commitments need to be kept, and agreements are binding. Advance purchase agreements need to be respected.
“Today, we have developed a system which will allow us to know whether vaccines are being exported from the EU.
“This increased transparency will also come with a responsibility for the EU to authorise, with our members states, these vaccine exports.”
The possible occupation of vaccine manufacturers came as EU figures considered enacting “urgent measures” contained in treaties that could allow the bloc to take control of the production process.
European Council President Charles Michel, a former Belgian PM, suggested invoking Article 122 of the Lisbon Treaty.
The provision is meant to help the EU rush emergency financial assistance to a member country in need, but legal advisors believe it could be interpreted more broadly.
Tory MP and former party leader Iain Duncan Smith accused the bloc of “childish, arrogant and deeply damaging” behaviour.
He fumed: “They’ve breached all contractual obligations and norms of world trade by taking arbitrary powers. This is all about trying to shift the blame on to the British.”
Last night a No10 spokesman said: “The UK Government is urgently seeking an explanation from the European Commission about the statements issued by the EU today and assurances as to its intentions.
“The UK has legally-binding agreements with vaccine suppliers and it would not expect the EU, as a friend and ally, to do anything to disrupt the fulfilment of these contracts. The Government has reiterated the importance of preserving the benefits of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.”
On an astonishing day:
- CROATIAN Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic accused Britain of “vaccine hijacking” as he tried to blame us for the EU shortage of the AstraZeneca jab;
- ASTRAZENECA published its contract with the EU in a bid to prove it was not contractually obliged to divert doses from Britain to Europe — but huge sections had to be redacted, making it almost meaningless.;
- THE EU said Britain was one of just three European countries – along with Russia and Turkey — which could be hit by the jabs export ban;
- EU regulators authorised the AstraZeneca vaccine on all adults — humiliating Germany who said it should not be used on over 65s.
The tense stand-off involving the EU, pharmaceutical giants and the UK boiled over into an all-out war yesterday.
The day began with Ms von der Leyen accusing British-based AstraZeneca of lying about its vaccine contract with the bloc.
She said the firm legally had to divert 50 million doses from its UK factories to plug the shortfall at the EU factories.
She said: “There are binding orders and the contract is crystal clear. The phrase ‘best effort’ does not exist.”
The EU’s Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders accused the UK of trying to stoke a “vaccine war” with the continent.
EU chiefs then staged a short but explosive press conference detailing their plan for a jab export ban.
The tough controls give the EU the power to veto the export of any Covid vaccines out of the bloc.
Those seized can be used to immunise Europeans instead. The rules kick in today and last until March.
Downing Street refused to get into a war of words with the EU, but have insisted they are confident in the supplies they have ordered.
But Whitehall sources said they were shocked Brussels had gone nuclear and threatened to impose a hard border in Ireland.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis scrambled to quell fears the region could miss out on vital vaccine doses.
He tweeted: “NI receives its vaccines as part of UK-wide procurement – with over 220,000 vaccines administered to date.” Tory MPs queued up to hammer the EU.
Tory MPs queued up to hammer the EU.
Peter Bone fumed: “They’re acting like bullies — saying: “I want some of your stuff!”
Theresa Villiers said: “This seems like a panic measure by the EU.”
Richard Torbett, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said: “Companies are working as fast as they can to scale up supply for everyone around the world. Restrictions will slow this progress and we urge all Governments to avoid them.”
The number of Brits getting their first jab neared eight million yesterday as the UK’s daily vaccination figure was 443,985.
Our total of 8.3 million jabs given out is far greater than EU countries which — as our graphic shows — lag well behind.
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