After France's Europe Minister became the latest politician to threaten a vaccine export ban on the UK, Boris Johnson used today's press conference to try to diffuse the row ahead of Thursday's summit of EU leaders. When asked in the Q&A session whether such an export ban could derail the UK roadmap for ending lockdown and if the UK would retaliate, the Prime Minister stressed the need for cooperation from all sides.
Johnson said the UK would continue to work with European partners to deliver the vaccine rollout – suggesting that the pandemic wouldn't be over for anyone until it was over for everyone. As for whether the UK could retaliate in the face of an export ban by introducing a UK export ban on vaccine ingredients being sent to the continent, Johnson appeared to rule this option out. He said the UK 'wouldn't dream of engaging' in blockades of vaccines or vaccine components.
Hinting at progress ahead of EU leader's meeting on Monday to decide a plan of action, the Prime Minister said he had been 'encouraged' by things he has heard from some EU leaders. Johnson's comments were softer than those of the Defence Secretary on the Sunday broadcast round. Behind the scenes, there are nerves in Downing Street that any retaliatory measure from the UK in the event of a vaccine export ban could make the situation go from bad to worse.
Some in government are concerned that this could allow the EU to say the UK had lost the moral high ground and introduce a blanket ban on vaccine exports sent here, including the Pfizer vaccine. However, No. 10 are encouraged by Angela Merkel today ruling out an EU blanket ban on coronavirus vaccine exports to Britain. There is a growing sense that a landing zone can be found in splitting the doses from the plant in Netherlands between the two sides.