France ‘stole’ nearly five million AstraZeneca vaccine doses destined for Britain

France ‘stole’ almost five million coronavirus vaccine doses which had been destined for Britain, it has been reported.

President Emmanuel Macron plotted with European Union chiefs to halt the export of jabs to Britain earlier this year. 

A huge batch of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine which had been expected to arrive in the UK was instead diverted from Holland at the last minute, The Sun reported.    

The UK’s relations with France and Brussels hit a low in March when the domestic vaccine roll-out tore ahead of the EU’s.

Mr Macron incorrectly claimed that the AstraZeneca jab was ‘quasi-ineffective’, whilst European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen threatened to stop the Pfizer vaccine from being sent to the UK.

On March 22, AstraZeneca’s boss Rudd Dobber stated that a batch equivalent to several million doses had been expected to arrive from its production site in Holland. 

However, it never arrived and was instead diverted to the EU-wide scheme.     

France ‘stole’ almost five million coronavirus vaccine doses which had been destined for Britain, according to reports. President Emmanuel Macron is said to have plotted with European Union chiefs to halt the export of jabs to Britain earlier this year

The UK's relations with France and Brussels hit a low in March when the domestic vaccine roll-out tore ahead of the EU's. Pictured: Mr Macron with Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the G7 summit in June

The UK’s relations with France and Brussels hit a low in March when the domestic vaccine roll-out tore ahead of the EU’s. Pictured: Mr Macron with Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the G7 summit in June

A government source told The Sun that the diversion of the doses was ‘outrageous’ and akin to an ‘act of war’ which could have ‘cost lives’. 

‘The French stole our vaccines at the same time as they were slagging them off in public and suggesting they weren’t safe to use,’ they said. 

‘It was an outrageous thing to do and not the action of an ally, which was made very clear to them.

‘Withholding vaccines by stopping them leaving the EU had the potential to cost lives with people waiting for both first and second jabs.’ 

In March, EU leaders threatened to impose an export ban to block shipments of second vaccine doses to the UK.  

At the time, France suggested Britain did not have enough doses of the Pfizer jab to administer second doses, hinting that the continuance of the rollout was at the mercy of EU supply chains.    

Brussels then accused AstraZeneca of reneging on its contract to supply the bloc with 120million doses in the first quarter of this year. 

On March 22, Astra Zeneca's boss Rudd Dobber stated that a batch equivalent to several million doses had been expected to arrive from its production site in Holland

On March 22, Astra Zeneca’s boss Rudd Dobber stated that a batch equivalent to several million doses had been expected to arrive from its production site in Holland

Hardline EU nations justified their support for halting shipments of the vaccine by accusing the UK of failing to export any doses to the Continent.

Throwing his weight firmly behind the ban at the time, Macron fumed: ‘Europe is not a selfish continent. 

‘Because when I read what the press on the other side of the Channel writes, we’re being accused of being selfish. Wrong! We let our supply chains untouched.

‘But we saw that the United States tend to protect their own vaccine production… that the United Kingdom did not export many doses. Actually, none. So we put in place an export control mechanism.’ 

After the French president questioned the effectiveness of the jab and Ms von der Leyen accused the UK of cutting corners in its approval, many Europeans shunned the vaccine. 

Fears that the Astra Zeneca jab caused blood clots then led to a host of European nations halting its use. 

It is the latest in a string of post-Brexit rows that have rocked the Channel and soured the UK’s relationship with France and Brussels.  

French fishermen on Monday threatened to cut off Christmas supplies to Britain by blockading both the port of Calais and the Channel Tunnel.

They accused the UK of creating a complex and onerous application process and failing to grant them enough permits to make a living.   

‘If negotiating fails, we will stop all French and European products reaching the UK, and we will stop all British products reaching Europe,’ said Olivier Lepretre, chief of the powerful northern France fisheries committee. 

‘Unless Boris backs down, the Brits will not have so many nice things to eat this Christmas. I hope it doesn’t come to that.’ 

The threat is part of a wider row over Channel fishing rights which erupted in May when Britain sent two Royal Navy gunships to Jersey after dozens of French fishing boats vowed to blockade the island’s harbour.

Britain has granted only 12 of 47 small French vessels fishing rights in UK waters. 

British officials say those denied were unable to prove that they had fished in the six-to-12 mile nautical zone in the years before the UK left the EU.

But the French fishermen say the small boats are not fitted with the right technology to prove their historical fishing links and locations. 

French fishermen last night threatened to cut off crucial Christmas supplies to Britain. Pictured: French fishermen protest earlier this year

French fishermen last night threatened to cut off crucial Christmas supplies to Britain. Pictured: French fishermen protest earlier this year

Trade between the ports of Dover and Calais is estimated to be worth around £100billion every year. 

The flow of goods between both accounts for nearly a quarter of the UK’s major port traffic with the EU, according to a 2019 University of Hamburg study on the effects of Brexit. 

Meanwhile France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune has warned the dispute was putting UK power supplies at risk.

‘The Channel Islands, the UK, are dependent on us for their energy supply,’ he told the Europe 1 radio station yesterday. 

‘They think they can live on their own and badmouth Europe as well. And because it doesn’t work, they indulge in one-upmanship, and in an aggressive way.’

Jersey and neighbouring Guernsey rely on French power and two undersea cables also provide electricity to more than three million homes on the British mainland.

Mr Beaune said other EU governments could take punitive measures against the UK, such as imposing tariffs.

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