The EU and UK are on the brink of a vaccine trade war as London accuses Europe of acting like an ‘enemy state’

boris johnson ursula
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

  • The European Union and the United Kingdom are on the brink of a vaccine trade war after European officials threatened to block exports to the UK.
  • UK officials are also furious at what they see as EU attempts to undermine public trust in the UK-developed Astrazeneca vaccine.
  • The row comes amid months of mounting tensions between Brussels and London over vaccines and post-Brexit trade problems.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The European Union is on the brink of an explosive vaccine trade war with the UK after officials in Brussels said they would block the export of Astrazeneca vaccines to the UK.

The development, which was briefed to outlets including Bloomberg on Sunday came amid threats of retaliation and anger in London over what officials see as reckless comments by some European leaders about the reliability of the vaccine.

Polling by YouGov this week found that trust in the Astrazeneca vaccine has collapsed in mainland Europe following interventions by European leaders questioning its effectiveness and safety.

Scientific studies in Europe, the UK and the US have all found it to be both safe and effective.

However, a total of 61% of people in France now believe AstraZeneca’s vaccine is unsafe, up 18 points from February according to the YouGov poll. The AstraZeneca row in the EU may also have contributed to a rise in mistrust about its efficacy in the UK, where 4% more people think it is unsafe compared to February, YouGov’s poll indicated.

The poll finding was met with disbelief in London with one unnamed UK government official telling Politico that Brussels was acting like an “enemy state.”

“It is one thing for the EU to risk the lives of its own people by spreading disinformation about the Oxford vaccine, that is bad enough,” the official said.

“But for that disinformation to threaten the lives of people in Britain is a seriously hostile act, the sort of which we would usually only expect from an enemy state.”

The row exploded on Sunday when one official told Bloomberg that Astrazeneca vaccines produced in the EU should be reserved for EU member states, which have fallen far behind the UK in their vaccination efforts.

European leaders will meet on Thursday to decide whether to press ahead with a vaccine export ban after European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday said British-headquartered AstraZeneca was at risk of breaching its supply obligations to European countries.

“That is the message to AstraZeneca,” she told reporters. “You fulfill your contract with Europe before you start delivering to other countries.'”

“We have the possibility to forbid planned exports.”

As a sign of growing tensions, UK minister Helen Whately on Monday refused three times to deny that the UK would introduce retaliatory measures if the EU proceeds with the ban.

UK defense minister Ben Wallace insisted on Sunday that drug companies must honor contracts and told the BBC: “The grown-up thing would be for the European Commission and some of the European leaders to not indulge in rhetoric.”

The row comes amid months of mounting tensions between Brussels and London over the supply of AstraZeneca vaccines.

There is also fury in London over the decision by thirteen European governments to suspend the use of AstraZeneca vaccines last week over misplaced fears that the jab was unsafe.

A large-scale US trial published on Monday found that the jab was both safe and highly effective, and most European governments have resumed their vaccination programs after the European Medicines Agency last week declared the vaccine safe.

But the temporary suspension of AstraZeneca’s vaccine last week over blood clot fears has led to plummeting trust its safety across Europe, according to a YouGov poll published on Monday, which was reported by Politico.

A US study this week found no evidence of a link to blood clots.

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Brexit trade deal talks deadline extended after ‘constructive’ call between Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen

Boris Johnson Ursula von der Leyen
Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen.

  • Brexit trade talks will be extended following a call between UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
  • Both sides had insisted that the deadline for a breakthrough in talks was Sunday, with Johnson insisting a no-deal Brexit was “very likely.”
  • The extension comes as UK shops have been told to stockpile food and other essential items ahead of a possible no-deal outcome.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Brexit trade deal talks will continue into next week following a call between UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday.

Ursula von der Leyen said talks with Johnson had been “constructive and useful” and so talks could continue.

“Despite the exhaustion after almost a year of negotiations, despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over we think it is responsible at this point to go the extra mile,” she said in a statement to reporters in Brussels.

In a joint statement, both leaders added that “our negotiators to continue the talks and to see whether an agreement can even at this late stage be reached.”

Britain is still due to leave the European Single Market without a replacement trade deal in place on December 31 unless there is a further breakthrough in talks.

Both sides had previously insisted that Sunday was the deadline for that breakthrough. On Friday, Johnson said it was “very, very likely” that Britain would fail to strike a trade deal before January.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also insisted to the BBC on Sunday that there was a “very high bar” for talks to be extended.

However, negotiations will now continue on Monday following intensive negotiations this weekend.

The announcement that talks will continue comes as Johnson’s government urges shops to begin stockpiling.

The UK could experience shortages of vegetables and other goods it sources heavily from Europe for months to come, the Sunday Times reported, with prices for consumers likely to soar due to newly-imposed EU tariffs.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted that reports of shortages in supermarkets would not come to pass, however.

“We’re not going to see shelves running bare or any of the scaremongering stories we’ve heard,” Raab told Times Radio. 

British ports and freight companies are already reporting long delays and tailbacks on either side of the English Channel due to companies stockpiling supplies ahead of Britain’s exit from the Brexit transition period.

UK shops are already experiencing shortages and delays due to congestion at ports caused by Brexit stockpiling.

Representatives from the UK toy industry told Business Insider this week that many popular children’s toys will be unavailable to consumers this Christmas because of the delays.

The British Retail Consortium’s Andrew Opie told Insider that at some ports, “we have seen a huge surge in demand for space which has created delays and hundreds of thousands of pounds in congestion charges for unloading goods.”

“Retailers now face higher costs than ever before, with some seeing 25% week-on-week rises for shipping.

“While these rates continue to rise, and the disruption at ports and in shipping continues, retailers face significant challenges with the import of some items ahead of Christmas.”

Any disruption is due to hit the UK economy hard after a year of economic pain triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Johnson’s government is preparing to spend billions on propping up UK industries in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Sunday Telegraph reports.

Farming, fishing, and car manufacturers are expected to be especially badly hit by Britain’s sudden exit from the European single market.

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