EU attacks Boris Johnson for vaccines ‘beauty contest’ saying ‘Let’s see where we are in September’

‘Let’s see where we are at the end of this race. We need to be very humble regarding this virus’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
@Rob_Merrick
Wednesday 28 April 2021 18:12
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<p>João Vale de Almeida (right) with Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, in London last year</p>

João Vale de Almeida (right) with Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, in London last year

The EU has criticised Boris Johnson for trying to spark a “beauty contest” over Covid-19 vaccinations, saying: “Let’s see where we are in September.”

The bloc’s new ambassador to the UK said the delivery of jabs is “not a sprint”, after the number of inoculations rose sharply in the EU – and amid doubts over future supplies in this country.

“We should not try to have beauty contests out of a tragic pandemic,” João Vale de Almeida told a discussion hosted by the Institute for Government think-tank.

“Let’s see where we are at the end of this race, let’s see where we are in September” he said, adding: “We need to be very humble regarding this virus.”

Mr Vale de Almeida – speaking after the European Parliament ratified the Brexit trade deal – also:

* Rejected calls for major changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol – saying: “The Protocol is not the problem. The problem is Brexit.”

* Said exporters had told him they wanted the UK to drop plans to diverge from EU rules – because it would “create more problems than it will solve”.

* Called for “a qualitative change in the atmosphere” of the relationship – while being encouraged by recent meetings.

* Played down the chances of quick improvements, to recognise professional qualifications for example – saying: “Too many people are jumping to renegotiate an agreement we have just agreed upon.”

* Played down the spat over the UK denying him full diplomatic status – saying he was “confident that we will find a solution that is in line with international practice”.

Although the UK has led Europe in vaccinations, the EU has recently upped its game and expects to double-jab 70 per cent of all adults by the middle of July.

Mr Vale de Almeida also pointed to the threat from new variants, adding: “God knows what will come down the road.”

On the UK’s plans to diverge on standards, the ambassador said: “I’ve been talking to business people, for instance manufacturing, food and drink, agriculture and beyond.

“What I’ve got back is, we don’t seek a profound divergence – because we are so much linked to your market that we understand that too big a divergence will create more problems than it would solve.”

On the controversy over the Protocol – which Mr Johnson branded “absurd”, despite agreeing it – he said: “The Protocol is EU law and British law and it needs to be implemented.”

Stressing “preservation of the single market” was crucial, the ambassador said: “We also expect, on the British side. that the commitments made will be fully implemented.”

If the UK agreed to remain “aligned” with EU rules then “the problem would be solved” – but he was “not sure” the British government agreed.

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