Sir Tim Barrow, the UK’s former ambassador to the EU, will lead the negotiations with the European Commission to prevent a full-blown trade war. The veteran Foreign Office chief was dispatched to help broker a compromise after it emerged eurocrats were planning blockade shipments of the AstraZeneca jabs from the EU to the UK. One option reportedly being considered involves the Government handing over shipments manufactured at an AstraZeneca factory in the Netherlands.
It could see Downing Street agree to free up production capacity at the plant, which currently only supplies the UK, to make jabs for the EU as well.
In a bid to end the vaccines stand-off, Sir Tim is expected to stress the importance of Britain’s role in the global production of Covid jabs.
He will challenge Brussels officials to evaluate their calls for “reciprocity” when it comes to the export of vaccines.
The bloc is furious that it has exported 34 million jabs worldwide and not received many back in return.
But while Britain is not exporting finished doses, it has sent raw ingredients and expertise to the bloc to aid the manufacturing of inoculations.
The current row centres around the Dutch Halix factory, which is part of the AstraZeneca production line.
The so-called “active ingredient” produced at the plant is later put into vials at two facilities in the UK.
Amid reports of a stockpile of up to 10 million doses, Mrs von der Leyen suggested she could block them from being exported to the UK from the Netherlands.
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has called for urgent talks between Brussels and Downing Street to avert a vaccine war over stocks at the Halix plant in Leiden.
UK and EU officials have discussed the possibility of sharing supplies if the bloc agrees to drop demands for UK-made vaccines to be shipped to the Continent.
These talks are understood to be at an advanced stage ahead of a decision by European leaders at their summit on Thursday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday said: “I’m reassured by talking to EU partners over the last few months that they do not want to see blockades, that’s very important.”
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Influential leader Angela Merkel has floated plans to single out AstraZeneca to avoid a full-blown vaccines war.
She said: “When it comes to vaccine production, there are a huge range of international interdependencies. You have to be very careful now about imposing general export bans – you have to take a very close look at the supply chains.
“I support the European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who has made very clear that in cases where the contracts struck with us are not being fulfilled, you have of course a different situation to when contracts are being extensively fulfilled or even when more doses are being delivered to the European Union.”
The German Chancellor added: “We have a very well-known problem with AstraZeneca.”