Dominic Raab has summoned the EU’s UK representative amid government fury over claims by the president of the European council that the UK has banned exports of vaccines, which the government says are entirely false.
In a row that threatened to reopen the rift between the UK and EU over vaccine policy, the foreign secretary wrote to Charles Michel expressing considerable concern at the statement he released on Tuesday and accused him of publishing false information.
Anger in Whitehall has been building for a number of days about the portrayal of the UK’s export policy in Brussels by senior EU politicians, not just Michel, as well as worry that the claim is widely circulating in European media.
A government source said the claim had been repeated at various levels within the EU and the commission and the UK had repeatedly privately corrected the record on every occasion – but intimated that Raab now needed to “draw a line in the sand”.
A representative of the EU’s delegation to the UK has since been summoned to a meeting at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
Michel made the claim in a fierce defence of the EU’s vaccine policy published on Tuesday in his newsletter. He said the EU should not have been accused of hoarding vaccines via its export controls and said the UK had stronger prohibitions on exports.
“I am also shocked when I hear the accusations of ‘vaccine nationalism’ against the EU. Here again, the facts do not lie,” he wrote.
“The United Kingdom and the United States have imposed an outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components produced on their territory. But the European Union, the region with the largest vaccine production capacity in the world, has simply put in place a system for controlling the export of doses produced in the EU.”
A government spokesman said the claim was untrue. “The UK government has not blocked the export of a single Covid-19 vaccine. Any references to a UK export ban or any restrictions on vaccines are completely false,” the spokesman said.
“This pandemic is a global challenge and international collaboration on vaccine development continues to be an integral part of our response.”
The Guardian understands that Raab wrote to Michel on Tuesday afternoon after becoming alarmed at the repetition of the claim.
In his letter Raab wrote that the world was “facing this pandemic together”, and added: “I wanted to set the record straight. The UK government has not blocked the export of a single Covid-19 vaccine or vaccine components. Any references to a UK export ban or any restrictions on vaccines are completely false.”
The UK does have some limits on exports, which are focused on middlemen who buy medicines or PPE intended for patients in one country in order to profit from selling them somewhere else.
The Department of Health and Social Care has previously said that medicines and equipment that are manufactured and intended for markets abroad are not subject to the export restrictions.