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UK anger at EU claim it has banned vaccine exports – POLITICO

LONDON — Britain vowed to “set the record straight” after European Council President Charles Michel accused the U.K. of blocking the export of coronavirus vaccines.

In a fresh escalation of the cross-Channel row over jabs, U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab sent a letter to European Council President Charles Michel Tuesday night dismissing suggestions Britain had banned exports of the life saving doses.

“I wanted to set the record straight,” Raab said, according to a person familiar with the letter. “The UK government has not blocked the export of a single COVID-19 vaccine or vaccine components. Any references to a UK export ban or any restrictions on vaccines are completely false.”

He added: “We are all facing this pandemic together.”

The intervention comes after Michel pointed the finger at the U.K. and U.S. in a written rebuttal of criticism that has rained down on the EU’s vaccine strategy, saying he was shocked at claims the bloc was engaging in “vaccine nationalism” by implementing export controls on jabs.

Britain and the U.S., he said, “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,” Michel wrote in his “newsletter to citizens” sent out on Tuesday.

Stung by that accusation, the U.K. is also expected to summon a representative of the EU’s delegation to the U.K. to discuss the matter, a traditional diplomatic method for expressing serious displeasure.

The U.K. has, however, secured priority over others for doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines. And despite ongoing shortages in the EU, Britain is set to receive more Oxford/AstraZeneca doses as of next week. It was also due to receive vaccine doses from India’s Serum Institute this week.

In January, it emerged that the U.K. government sought legal advice on preventing coronavirus vaccines or their ingredients from being exported, suggesting that ministers were actively considering countermeasures they could deploy if other countries started to restrict cross-border movements of vaccines.

A U.K. government spokesperson said the pandemic represented “a global challenge and international collaboration on vaccine development continues to be an integral part of our response.”

In a tweet late Tuesday, Michel did not repeat his prior allegation of an “outright ban” on vaccines, nor did he retract it or apologize, but instead angled to claim credit for potentially provoking the British government into being more transparent about its rules on exports of coronavirus vaccines and medications.

“Glad if the UK reaction leads to more transparency & increased exports, to EU and third countries,” he wrote.

But he also noted “different ways of imposing bans or restrictions on vaccines/medicines,” backtracking from his original unequivocal accusation in favor of a more muddled complaint.

Glad if the UK reaction leads to more transparency & increased exports, to EU and third countries.

Different ways of imposing bans or restrictions on vaccines/medicines.

EU is providing vaccines for its citizens and rest of the world.

No one is safe until everyone is safe.

— Charles Michel (@eucopresident) March 9, 2021

David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting.

This article has been updated with further comments from Charles Michel.

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