Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has blasted claims by a senior Eurocrat that the UK is hampering the bloc's vaccine rollout, calling the questionable assertions 'completely false'. Charles Michel, president of the European Council, initially argued that Britain had imposed an 'outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components' leaving the country in an EU blog on Tuesday. (Michel then subtly soften his claim after commentators pointed out there was no such 'outright ban', instead he said there were 'different ways of imposing bans or restrictions on vaccines'.)
But London was having none of it. Raab came out fighting on Tuesday night, insisting that 'any references to a UK export ban or any restrictions on vaccines are completely false' and demanding that EU officials appear before the Foreign Office on Wednesday to explain themselves.
It's worth bearing in mind the context of this latest spat. Late last week, Italy invoked an EU provision that allowed the country to block the export of a quarter of a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine bound for Australia. One might even call it an 'outright ban' on jabs leaving the protectionist bloc.
Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, whose office unilaterally triggered the provision to impose a hard border on the island of Ireland in order to get her hands on UK vaccines (before making a grovelling U-turn just hours later), has also complained about the EU's treatment during the vaccination rollout.
VdL told reporters that she was 'tired of being the scapegoat' over the bloc's vaccine fiasco — even though it's clear that it is the EU that failed to procure enough jabs last year, ordering too few doses of the wrong kind of vaccine.
What's more, the embattled bureaucrat turned her fire on AstraZeneca itself, blaming the firm for failing to stockpile enough doses for the EU (which seems odd to Mr S given that other countries' order books haven't suffered in the same way as the EU's).
It seems there's a degree of schizophrenia in the EU's relationship with the medicines manufacturer. On the one hand, the likes of Emmanuel Macron have dismissed the jab as 'quasi-ineffective' while VdL accused the UK and AstraZeneca of compromising on safety by deploying the vaccine as quickly as they did.
Now von der Leyen and other EU leaders are fuming because they haven't bagged enough of the jab they spent much of the early weeks of 2021 undermining.
So Mr S is glad Raab has summoned EU officials to explain what exactly is going on over in Brussels. But really European bureaucrats should be explaining to their own citizens how they managed to bungle their vaccine rollout so badly...