Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, has issued a warning to the European Commission that any attempt to block coronavirus vaccine exports to the UK would be “counterproductive”.
Commission president Ursula von der Leyen ramped up the rhetoric at the weekend, saying the EU had the power to “forbid” exports, adding; “That is the message to AstraZeneca.”
The warning reflects growing frustration on the continent that the EU is not getting the supplies it expected from the British-Swedish manufacturer.
Ireland’s commissioner Mairead McGuinness said no decisions had been taken but that EU leaders would consider the matter when they meet 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 BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.
“Both the EU and the UK have contracts with AstraZeneca and my understanding is the company is supplying the UK but the European Union.
“We are supplying the UK with other vaccines, so I think this is just about openness and transparency.”
Wallace, however, hit back by warning the manufacture of the Pfizer vaccine depended on supplies from the UK.
“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,” he told The Andrew Marr Show.
“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 earlier on Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, he said the EU would suffer “severe reputational” damage if it tried interfering with vaccine exports.
“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.”