Number 10 insists Boris’s ‘greed is good’ boast to 1922 committee wasn’t about UK’s hugely successful vaccine drive – but a jibe at his burly chief whip who was gobbling up a CHEESE SANDWICH as he spoke
- Boris Johnson made comments during private meeting of the 1922 Committee
- He said: ‘The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism…’
- But the Prime Minister then repeatedly asked MPs to ‘forget’ he had said it
Downing Street rowed back from a new vaccine row with the EU today after Boris Johnson claimed Britain had got more jabs ‘because of greed’ – saying it was a joke levelled at his portly chief whip.
The Prime Minister risked a new front in the Covid war with Brussels last night during an online meeting with Tory backbenchers.
He hailed ‘big pharma’ for making the vaccines quickly and told a private meeting of the 1922 Committee: ‘The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed my friends.’
He later added: ‘Actually I regret saying it’, and repeatedly asked MPs to ‘forget I said that’.
Government sources insisted today that Mr Johnson had been praising the way capitalism drove progress rather than aiming a swipe at the EU.
It is understood that chief whip Mark Spencer was also eating a cheese and pickle sandwich near him at the time, and ‘greed’ was also a reference to that.
Mr Johnson likes to joke that he is a fan of ‘big pharma’ as well as ‘big farmers’ – another ‘favourite’ piece of banter with the burly Mr Spencer, who comes from a farming background.
Boris Johnson (pictured today) risked inflaming the EU row last night by joking with MPs that Britain had got the jabs ‘because of greed’
Big pharma: It is understood that chief whip Mark Spencer was also eating a cheese and pickle sandwich near him at the time, and ‘greed’ was also a reference to that.
A Tory source said reports of the joke ‘misrepresent his views’, adding that he went on to heap praise on AstraZeneca, which is making the jab on a non-profit basis.
At the meeting, the PM also said: ‘It was giant corporations that wanted to give good returns to shareholders.
‘It was driven by big pharma – and I don’t just mean the Chief Whip.’
The Chief Whip Mark Spencer was previously a farmer.
His comments were at odds with those made at the Downing Street press conference earlier, when he sought to strike a conciliatory note.
Mr Johnson also singled out that AstraZenca were producing the vaccine at cost and thanked the company for its work (French President Emmanuel Macron pictured talking with people waiting to be vaccinated)
The UK’s vaccine rollout has surged far ahead of the EU’s leaving the bloc under huge pressure to explain why
Patients wait to get vaccinated against the Covid-19 during a vaccination campaign in France
‘We don’t believe in blockades of any kind of vaccines or vaccine materials,’ he said then.
‘That’s not something this country would dream of engaging in. We’ll continue to work with European partners to deliver the vaccine rollout.’
The PM said that he was ‘encouraged’ by the attitude of EU capitals towards finding a solution.
Mr Johnson also singled out that AstraZenca were producing the vaccine at cost and thanked the company for its work.
The EU put Britain in the crosshairs today as it unveiled plans to block vaccine exports to countries with high jab rates that don’t ‘reciprocate’ by sharing supplies.
The European Commission defied anxiety over undermining legal contracts as it published new proposals widening the criteria for restricting exports.
At a press conference in Brussels, vice-president Valdis Dombrovkis complained that the EU had exported 43million doses to 33 countries since January.
He said exports could be restricted to destination countries that limit their own exports of jabs or raw materials – whether by law or other means.
Mr Dombrovkis said the other principle would be whether a state’s vaccination rate and infection levels were ‘better or worse than the EU’s’.
This chart shows how the AstraZeneca supply chain looks across Europe
The move came amid extraordinary reports today that 29million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine are being held at a plant in Italy.
According to Italian paper La Stampa the huge stocks were earmarked for the UK, but discovered by the authorities after a tip-off from Brussels.
However, UK government sources insisted the claims are ‘not true’ and the supply figures being cited are ‘insane’. Briefing in Brussels also played down the idea there is a link to Britain, with the plant instead described as a bottling site for stocks heading to countries including Canada and Mexico.
Meanwhile, in a major boost for the British drive India has indicated it will hand over another five million AstraZeneca doses that had been delayed.
The wrangling comes amid mounting panic in Brussels at its shambolic rollout. Hundreds of people from the Republic are said to have been trying to book jabs in Northern Ireland, where availability is far better.
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