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.
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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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