Matt Hancock pandemic diaries: Boris Johnson had 'extraordinary row' with EU over Pfizer vaccines

Boris Johnson ‘practically had smoke coming out of his ears’ after an ‘extraordinary row’ over Pfizer bosses’ attempts to divert vaccines to the EU, according to Matt Hancock.

In his pandemic diaries, the former health secretary records the EU’s ‘desperate’ attempt to institute an export ban before a ‘humiliating’ U-turn two days later.

In January 2021 the vaccine rollout was in full swing after Britain became the first country to authorise the jab a month earlier.

But a major row was brewing with the EU, which made vital errors negotiating contracts and over-estimated how quickly it could produce and distribute jabs.

It meant millions of vaccines were being exported from the continent while its politicians were hammered for failing to provide enough for their own citizens.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen admitted the bloc was late authorising the jab

The EU took drastic steps to try and cover up its mistakes.

Mr Hancock recalls the tense moment when he told the Prime Minister of the last-minute attempt by Pfizer’s bosses to divert exports to the EU.

Calling the row ‘extraordinary’, he writes: ‘When I got to the Cabinet room, the PM practically had smoke coming out of his ears.

‘He was in full bull-in-a-china-shop mode, pacing round the room growling.

‘What really riled him was the fact that only last night he was speaking to Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla, and Bourla made no mention of it!

‘I was wary: when the PM is in this mood, he can really lash out.

‘I knew I’d need to be as diplomatic as possible if I wanted to avoid getting caught in the crossfire.’

Three days later he reports Pfizer has ‘relented’, adding: ‘Following a robust exchange between Bourla and the PM, lo and behold, they’ve located an “emergency supply”, which is now heading our way.’

The EU then tried to ratchet up pressure on the UK and pharmaceutical companies by instituting what Mr Hancock labels an ‘export ban’ – before performing a ‘humiliating climbdown’.

Mr Hancock notes, on January 25, the new tough stance was ‘purely because they screwed up procurement’.

He adds: ‘The EU health commissioner has tweeted that “in the future” any company that produces vaccines in the EU will have to provide “early notification” if they want to sell it to a third-party country.

‘In other words, they’ll need permission. Totally desperate stuff!’

Two days later he adds: ‘A humiliating climbdown from the EU, who clearly realised their “export ban” wouldn’t end well.

‘It followed frantic diplomacy on our side, plus our lawyers confirming that they wouldn’t be able to block our supply anyway.

‘What a ridiculous waste of time and energy.’

Matt Hancock accused the EU of 'totally desperate stuff'

Matt Hancock accused the EU of 'totally desperate stuff'

Matt Hancock accused the EU of ‘totally desperate stuff’

The rollout has been hailed by the Conservative Government as a Brexit dividend, arguing the UK could not have acted so quickly if it was part of the bloc.

In February last year, European Commission president Ursula von de Leyen admitted: ‘We were late to authorise. We were too optimistic when it came to massive production and perhaps too confident that what we ordered would actually be delivered on time.’ There was also a row over messaging as some EU countries initially refused to recommend the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for people over 65, damaging trust in the jab.

The EU then took AstraZeneca to court to force it to deliver more jabs but lost after the firm argued it was fulfilling its contract.

By June of last year the UK had administered 111 doses per 100 people, compared to just over 70 in the EU.

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