Just read the contract
between the EU and AZ. I'm not a lawyer, but nor is whoever is advising the commission, by the looks of it. The relevant sections as far as I can tell are paras 5.1, 5.4, 5.5 and 13.1e. Can't cut and paste from the pdf, so apologies for any typos.
5.1 Initial Europe Doses Astra Zeneca shall use its best reasonable efforts to manufacture the Initial Europe Doses within the EU for distribution ....
The initial doses are what we are concerned about - the next two paras cover options and any additional doses. So this makes it pretty clear that the agreement was best reasonable efforts, and the intention was to manufacture them at an EU plant.
The para that the EU have focussed on is 5.4
5.4 AstraZeneca shall use its Best Reasonable Efforts to manufacture the vaccine at manufacturing sites located within the EU (which for the purpose of this Section 5.4 only shall include the United Kingdom) and may manufacture the vaccine in non-EU facilities ... provided that AZ shall provide notice of such non-EU facilities too the commission ...
OK - so basically you can manufacture it anywhere if you have to, but if it's outside the EU or UK gives us a heads up and an explanation. Which is really pointing out the fact the UK is still in a defacto state of regulatory alignment with the EU, so no need to call ahead. It's not a claim on UK manufacturing capability, any more than it's a claim on India's production. Para 5.4 also sets out the EU's role if AZ can't deliver:
... may present to AZ CMO's within the EU capable of manufacturing the vaccine doses ....
That was the contractual next step after the shortfall was announced. Is the EU acting on that? 5.5 is the clincher though:
5.5 Reporting AZ shall notify the commission as soon as (a) it selects the initial vaccine sites ...
So the manufacturing sites were specific! Unless AZ pointed them at Wrexham and the other UK site, lol. Finally, the EU points to para 13.1e:
Astra Zeneca is not under an obligation, contractual or otherwise, to any person or third party, in respect of the initial Europe doses ... that would impede complete fulfilment of its obligations under this contract.
This is so weak. As we've seen in 5.1 the Initial Europe Doses are to be supplied from the EU proper. So the contract with the UK does not impede that - since we are not getting doses from Europe. The EU would have been well aware of the UK contract at the time. It just looks like one of the poorest claims ever. There are unsubstantiated allegations of supply going to the UK - but even if that were true, it may be legitimate if the EU nation it was destined for didn't pay for the storage (this vaccine is being supplied on a cost basis after all) - see para 8.5.
So the EU doesn't have a leg to stand on legally, morally there approach has been despicable too. They have invested one seventh
of the US and UK into vaccine development, have negotiated long and hard to save pennies and push back on liability. They've delayed to the point where the ramp up issues which have been common to all suppliers - at least Pfizer, Janssen and Moderna - have bit them on the arse. And which manufacturer do the choose to go ballistic at? The one that is supplying them vaccines at cost. Disgusting.
Why are they doing it? If they had brought in their vaccine blockade on the UK what would they have gained? The bulk of the UK's vaccines will be AZ from here on in. Janssen and Novavax won't hit till the start of H2 - and Novavax will be produced in the UK. We don't get Moderna until April, and in relatively small quantities. Pfizer drove our initial vaccination programme, and there will be a few weeks worth in country waiting for the MHRA to inspect and approve, for the rest of H1 you're looking at a million a week roughly (scaling up the leaked Scottish data). So about 16m doses, and another 1m Moderna. Minus the 8m addtional doses AZ offered - so 9m doses. It's a drop in the ocean to the 445m population of the EU. So they must have been planning on screwing over quite a few countries - unless securing additional vaccine isn't their motive.
The down sides are numerous. If you were a Pharmaceutical company would you be comfortable having your production in a bloc that block your exports in a fit of pique? The damage
that has been done in NI with Article 16? And what if the countries affected were to retaliate? The supply chains are international - I know at least one UK firm is a supplier to either Moderna or Pfizer (I was looking the other night, should have bookmarked it). Disrupt them and you affect vaccine supply globally.
I honestly think this is down to the pressure the Commission is coming under. They screwed up royally in vaccine procurement, and it will cost many lives. The economic hit of a return to normality coming later than its western peers will be tough. And all this while Brexit Britain finally get's something right on covid. It's going to hurt, but I was reading an Italian politician suggesting it could be existential for the EU. His argument was that the countries on the periphery view the EU as a beacon of competence. Screw up the most important thing they've had to do, probably in the lifetime of the bloc, and that illusion will be shattered. Just at the point they have to get looking at the real structural issues that have been put on the back burner due to Brexit - the North South divide, the core issues around monetary union, corporate tax avoidance, the rise of fascism in Hungary and Poland, lack of agility in responding to crisis in foreign affairs etc. It's going to be a wild ride, and they won't want a covid related rise in Euroscepticism.
It looks like they've backed away from the brink, hopefully calmer heads will prevail, and the UK will look to see what it can do to help. Ursula von der Leyen resigning would be a good move, but there's the democratic deficit to contend with.
By the way, I voted remain in the referendum.