Raab compares EU to dictatorship as row over access to vaccines escalates

Says threat reminiscent of nations ‘with less democratic regimes’

Kate Devlin,Tom Batchelor,Jon Stone
Wednesday 17 March 2021 18:32
Ursula von der Leyen threatens to restrict EU vaccine exports

The foreign secretary has compared the European Union to a dictatorship as the row over access to coronavirus vaccines escalated.

Dominic Raab was speaking after the EU threatened to restrict exports of Covid jabs to the UK in an effort to safeguard them for its own citizens.

As parts of the continent face a third wave of the pandemic Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said the bloc would use “whatever tool” necessary to ensure doses reached its citizens, including seizing production of vaccines.

Mr Raab said he was “surprised” at the EU’s stance, which he said "takes some explaining".

He said: "Frankly, I’m surprised we’re having this conversation. It is normally what the UK and EU team up with to reject when other countries with less democratic regimes than our own engage in that kind of brinkmanship."

He added: "The world’s watching. We’ve, all of us, including with our European friends, been saying throughout the pandemic, that you’d be wrong to curtail or interfere with lawfully-contracted supply.”

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Ministers also say her comments contradict direct assurances they have received in recent days and weeks from the commission.

Earlier the prime minister also hit out at the threat.

No 10 said: “It remains the case we would expect the EU to continue to stand by its commitments.”

Coronavirus cases are surging in some member states, including France and Italy.

Ms Ursula von der Leyen  said the EU wanted “reliable deliveries of vaccines, we want an increase in the contracts, we want to see reciprocity and proportionality in exports, and we are ready to use whatever tool we need to deliver on that,” she said.

“This is about making sure that Europe gets its fair share.”

Asked if this included invoking Article 122, which could result in the bloc effectively seizing production or waiving intellectual property rights to secure vaccine supplies for member states, she said: “All options are on the table.

“We are in the crisis of the century and I am not ruling out anything for now. We have to make sure that Europeans are vaccinated as soon as possible.”

She added: “Open roads run in both directions, and this is why we need to ensure that there is reciprocity and proportionality. If the situation does not change we will have to reflect on how to make exports to vaccine-producing countries dependent on their level of openness.

“We are exporting a lot to countries that are themselves producing vaccines, and we think this is an invitation to be open so that we also see exports from those countries coming back to the EU.

“We will reflect on whether exports to countries who have higher vaccination rates than us are still proportionate.”

Ms vonder Leyen said the UK was not a nation where she deemed there was “reciprocity” in terms of vaccine supply.

“Where the UK is concerned, we have observed that in the last six weeks 10 million doses by now have been exported to the UK,” she said.

“We are still waiting for doses to come from the UK, so this is an invitation to show us that there are also doses from the UK coming to the European Union, so that we have reciprocity.”

Ms von der Leyen added that of the vaccine export authorisation requests submitted to the bloc, 314 had been granted and only one had been refused.

That was earlier this month, when Italy blocked the export of more than 250,000 coronavirus vaccine doses to Australia.

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