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Don’t hold Covid vaccines hostage, EU told by Covax and MPs


European Union leaders were today accused of taking Covidvaccine supplies “hostage” as the bloc threatened draconian powers to stop millions of doses being delivered to Britain.

As Tory MPs branded the EU plan “idiotic”, the most emotive appeal came from a head of a British-backed international body formed to give a billion life-saving jabs to the world’s poorest.

Jane Halton, co-chairwoman of the Covax initiative, said it was “not desirable” to overturn contractual agreements because any scramble for vaccines by the West would inevitably lead to the weakest missing out.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who has been under heavy fire for the failure of her vaccine programme to procure supplies on time, was set to publish new regulations allowing the Commission to block targeted exports ahead of a summit tomorrow.

The measures could delay Britain’s highly successful procurement by singling out exports to countries with higher vaccination rates than the EU’s dismal rates.

Conservative MPs on all wings condemned the EU plan. Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary who chairs the Commons health committee, told the Standard: “Step by step the EU is destroying the possibility of a long-term partnership and friendship with its closest neighbour… it is idiotic in the extreme.”

While not a blanket ban on exports, the rules could affect UK contracts involving plants in the Netherlands and Italy. In a hardening of the EU tone, Charles Michel, the summit president, declared it was a “top priority” of the summit to improve the supplies to EU citizens.

Clément Beaune, the French minister for Europe, also said it was time to “strengthen export controls”.

Italy’s La Stampa newspaper alleged that a “treasure” of 29 million AstraZeneca doses had been discovered after a search, allegedly ready for covert delivery to Britain.

Sources suggested the numbers were far lower and actually destined for Mexico but the report raised tensions ahead of the summit.


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