Labour hits out at EU and warns Brussels to ‘cool the rhetoric’ in vaccine export ban row

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy backs government against EU

Labour has backed the government in a row with the EU over vaccines and told Brussels to “calm down” its rhetoric over a potential blockade.

Asked how the UK should respond to the bloc’s warnings, shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, branded comments by Ursula von der Leyen “deeply, deeply unhelpful”.

“I would urge the European Commission to calm down the language, cool the rhetoric, and let’s try and work together to get through this crisis,” she said, in comments directed at the president of the EU’s executive.

It comes as Conservative defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said any attempt to block Covid-19 vaccine exports to the UK would be “counterproductive” with the EU.

Ms Von der Leyen ramped up the rhetoric at the weekend, saying she was sending a “message to AstraZeneca” that the EU had the power to “forbid” exports.

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Countries on the other side of the channel are increasingly frustrated that the the British-Swedish manufacturer is not delivering the vaccines it promised them, while furnishing the UK with apparently ample supplies.

The situation has undermined the EU’s vaccine programme, which has also been set back by caution, uncertainty, and misinformation about the vaccines, sometimes at an official level.

Speaking on Sunday, Ireland’s commissioner Mairead McGuinness said no decision had been taken around the possibility of a blockade and that EU leaders would consider the matter at a summit on Thursday.

“European citizens are growing angry and upset at the fact that the vaccine rollout has not happened as rapidly as we had anticipated,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“Both the EU and the UK have contracts with AstraZeneca, and my understanding is the company is supplying the UK but not the European Union.

“We are supplying the UK with other vaccines, so I think this is just about openness and transparency.”

But the UK minister, Mr Wallace, said: “The grown-up thing would be for the European Commission and some of the European leaders to not indulge in rhetoric, but to recognise the obligations that we all have.

“We will all hold each other to our contracts. Making a vaccine is like baking a cake; we all have different ingredients and the European Commission will know that.

“You pointed out the point about Pfizer. They will know you wouldn’t want to cut off your nose to spite your face.”

Speaking separately on Sky News, Mr Wallace argued that the EU would suffer “severe reputational” damage if it imposed export bans.

“If contracts and undertakings get broken, that is a very damaging thing to happen for a trading bloc which prides itself on the rule of law,” he said.

“It would be counterproductive because the one thing we know about vaccine production and manufacturing is that it is collaborative.

“If we start to unpick that, if the commission were to start to do that, I think they would undermine not only their citizens’ chances of having a proper vaccine programme, but also many other countries around the world with the reputational damage to the EU, I think, they would find very hard to change over the short-term.”

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