EU diplomat summoned to Foreign Office amid coronavirus vaccine row

Harriet Line and David Hughes, PA
·3-min read

A senior European Union diplomat has been summoned to the Foreign Office in a row over coronavirus vaccine exports.

Nicole Mannion, deputy ambassador of the EU to the UK, attended the meeting on Wednesday morning after European Council president Charles Michel accused Britain and the US of imposing bans on the movement of jabs.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab wrote to Mr Michel on Tuesday evening seeking to “set the record straight”, saying that “any references to a UK export ban or any restrictions on vaccines are completely false”.

Mr Raab insisted the Government “has not blocked a single Covid-19 vaccine or vaccine components”, adding: “We are all facing this pandemic together.”

Anger over the claim being repeated within the EU and the Commission, despite the UK correcting the record on each occasion, is understood to have led to the deputy ambassador being summoned to the Foreign Office.

A spokesman for the EU delegation said: “This morning Nicole Mannion, deputy ambassador of the EU to the UK and charge d’affaires at the EU Delegation to the UK, attended a meeting at the request of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

“We have no further comment at this stage.”

Mr Michel, in a newsletter on Tuesday, said he was “shocked” when he heard allegations of vaccine nationalism levelled at the EU, saying: “The facts do not lie.”

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He added: “The United Kingdom and the United States have imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced on their territory.

“But the European Union, the region with the largest vaccine production capacity in the world, has simply put in place a system for controlling the export of doses produced in the EU.”

A Government spokesman said: “The UK Government has not blocked the export of a single Covid-19 vaccine. Any references to a UK export ban or any restrictions on vaccines are completely false.

“This pandemic is a global challenge and international collaboration on vaccine development continues to be an integral part of our response.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Times Radio that “misleading information” on the efficacy of some coronavirus vaccines had damaged the uptake of jabs.

The European Commission said Boris Johnson had assured Ursula von der Leyen that the UK did not have a ban on vaccine exports but would not be drawn on Mr Michel’s criticism of British policy.

Commission spokesman Eric Mamer told reporters in Brussels: “The president of the European Commission had a phone call with Boris Johnson some time ago, during which he assured her that the UK did not have any issue when it came to the delivery of vaccines when it came to the European Union.”

Asked whether the Commission supported the comments of European Council president Mr Michel, the spokesman said: “We have a policy of not commenting on other people’s comments.

“Clearly the situation when it comes to the export of vaccines depends very much on the countries concerned. As far as the European Union is concerned, you know what our policy is and we will limit ourselves to that.”

Mr Mamer said that “different countries have got different measures in place” as part of the fight against coronavirus.

He added: “This does not concern vaccines, as far as we understand, coming from the UK… But we know as well that we the European Union are a very, very active exporter of vaccines, and that is not necessarily the case of all our partners.”

In January, the EU briefly attempted to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to impose controls on vaccines.

But it swiftly backtracked after coming in for widespread criticism over the move, which came as it faced significant pressure over delays to the rollout of its vaccination programme.