Defence Secretary Ben Wallace 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 has ramped up the rhetoric this weekend, saying the EU has 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 have been taken but EU leaders will 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 not the European Union.
“We are supplying the UK with other vaccines, so I think this is just about openness and transparency.”
Mr Wallace, however, hit back by warning the manufacture of the Pfizer vaccine depends 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.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Saturday was “a record-breaking day for the vaccine rollout” in the UK.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said 844,285 jabs had been given on Saturday.
“Each jab brings us one step closer to normal,” he tweeted.
“This mammoth team effort shows the best of Britain – thank you to the British public for coming forward.”
NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: “In just one day we vaccinated the equivalent of the entire adult populations of Liverpool, Southampton and Oxford combined.”
But Professor Jeremy Brown, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said the jab rollout in the UK may be delayed “slightly” due to problems with supplies.
He told Sky News: “It has always been the supply of vaccine that has been the concern that might delay things, and yes, I suspect our vaccine programme will be delayed slightly compared to where we thought it might have been a few weeks ago.
“But then we are ahead of schedule, so we are probably going to fall back to the original schedule and end up with everyone who is an adult being offered a vaccine by towards the middle to end of the summer.”
Meanwhile, Mr Wallace warned it would be “premature” for people to start booking summer holidays abroad until two task forces set up by the Government to look at the issues of vaccine passports and global travel report in April.
He told the BBC: “I haven’t booked my holiday. I will wait to see what the response is from those task forces in April. I think it would be premature to do that. It would be potentially risky.”