- Sources say Johnson had a ‘furious’ call with the French President in March 2021
- Macron had angered London by claiming AstraZeneca was ‘quasi-ineffective’
- ‘It was worse than the worst Brexit days,’ a source told the Mail about the call
Boris Johnson angrily accused Emmanuel Macron of trying to create controversy around the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine to distract from the EU’s failings during the pandemic.
Diplomatic sources told the Mail that the former prime minister held a ‘furious’ conversation with the French president in March 2021 in which he accused him of trying to undermine the Anglo-Swedish firm to calm domestic anger over the slow pace of the vaccine rollout in the EU.
Mr Macron had infuriated the British Government and scientific community the previous month when he claimed publicly that the AstraZeneca jab was ‘quasi-ineffective’.
Ministers believed he was also instrumental in a controversial EU decision in March 2021 to effectively impound five million doses of the AZ vaccine at a plant in the Netherlands, preventing their export to the UK.
In public, ministers declined to directly criticise Mr Macron at the time. But in private, the then PM – who will give evidence to the UK Covid inquiry this week – is said to have believed his actions were endangering lives. A diplomatic source said Mr Johnson used a phone call with his opposite number at the height of the issue to tackle him.
Boris Johnson angrily accused Emmanuel Macron of trying to create controversy around the AstraZeneca vaccine in March 2021, according to sources
Johnson had been infuriated when his French counterpart claimed publicly that the AstraZeneca jab was ‘quasi-ineffective’
There was another equally stormy call with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the topic
‘It was probably the lowest moment in UK-EU relations in decades; it was worse than the worst Brexit days,’ the source said.
‘Boris was furious about the way Macron was behaving. He thought it was irresponsible and he told him that if he carried on it would have a significant cost to France’s relationship with the UK.
‘By the end of the conversation he was directly accusing Macron and the EU of provoking a row about AstraZeneca in order to distract attention from their own embarrassing failures over the vaccine rollout.
‘There was another conversation with (EU chief) Ursula von der Leyen which was if anything even worse. The way they behaved over AstraZeneca set back relations for a very long time.’
The Daily Mail revealed yesterday that Mr Johnson was so angered by the EU’s threat to ban the export of AZ vaccines from the Netherlands to the UK that he asked the security services to draw up plans for a covert raid to retrieve the doses impounded at a plant in Leiden. The plan was dropped after officials warned it could inflame tensions.
A spokesman for Mr Johnson declined to comment on the alleged row with Mr Macron.