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Germany and France waded into the EU Covid vaccine row today to back threats to block exports of the AstraZeneca jab to the UK.

Chancellor Angela Merkel came out in favour of an EU-first policy and the threat of a ban on exports to third countries like Britain that has been advocated by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen – her former defence minister.

A senior French minister also explicitly warned exports of the jab to Britain could be halted unless more were supplied to EU nations.

In a sign of how far Europe is behind the UK, Emmanuel Macron announced today that the age from which people can be vaccinated against Covid-19 virus would be lowered to 70 from 75 from Saturday.

French Europe Minister Clement Beaune, a close ally of President Macron, directly threatened exports to the UK today, telling France Info radio: ‘AstraZeneca says ”I am experiencing delays”, we say ”mobilise your plants for us and if you don’t, we will block exports to the UK”.’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

French Europe Minister Clement Beaune, a close ally of President Macron, directly threatened exports to the UK today, joining ranks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel

He said that such a move would be discussed at a European summit at the end of this week, adding: ‘We want to avoid that AstraZeneca doses produced in Europe go to Britain when we are not receiving anything.’ 

The hardline approach of some EU states –  which has been attacked as ‘vaccine nationalism – has created a schism in the block, as other countries including Ireland warning it would be disastrous. 

Tensions are surging as world leaders argue over millions of doses of the Oxford jab that are reportedly being stored in a factory in the Netherlands.

Neither the EU nor UK has an obvious claim to the stockpile but both want a slice of it. Boris Johnson is allegedly considering an offer to split the stash with the EU to avoid a blockade. 

Mrs Merkel this morning said: ‘I support Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. We have a problem with AstraZeneca.’

And one of her ministers also deepened the ongoing row with an attack on the Anglo-Swedish firm.

‘For us, it is very, very important that everyone lives up to their responsibilities,’ Europe minister Michael Roth said this morning.

‘Everyone has to stick to their commitments, this is clearly also true for companies that have promised the delivery of vaccine contingents.’

The row appears to be revolving around vaccine supplies being made at a factory in Leiden, Netherlands. Neither the UK nor EU is currently using the vaccine the plant is making but Britain has ruffled feathers by importing some to add to stocks being made in its own factories at a time when the EU claims AstraZeneca is under-delivering in Europe. 

Although the UK is miles ahead in its vaccination programme, officials are still worried about the disruption an EU ban would cause. A source in Whitehall told The Times ‘we’re very worried about it’.