Boris Johnson has hit back at EU plans for further vaccine export controls as he said companies may reconsider investing in nations that impose trade blockades.
The prime minister told the cross-party Liaison Committee he does not think blockades of “either vaccines or of medicines or ingredients for vaccines are sensible”.
And in a further warning, he added: “I would just gently say to anybody considering a blockade, or interruption of supply chains, that companies may look at such actions and draw conclusions about whether or not it is sensible to make future investments in countries where arbitrary blockades are imposed.”
Mr Johnson was answering a question from former health secretary Jeremy Hunt about vaccine nationalism, hours after the European Commission said it was introducing an export authorisation mechanism based on “proportionality” and “reciprocity”.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said “open roads should run in both directions”, adding: “The EU has an excellent portfolio of different vaccines and we have secured more than enough doses for the entire population.
“But we have to ensure timely and sufficient vaccine deliveries to EU citizens. Every day counts.”
The proposals recommend more transparency and reciprocity but do not go as far as including a ban on exports to the UK.
The EU said the new regulation would consider whether the destination country restricts its own exports of vaccines or their raw materials “either by law or other means” and also whether the “conditions” in the destination country are better or worse than the EU’s “in particular its epidemiological situation, its vaccination rate and its access to vaccines”.
The PM is facing some of his sternest critics as he answers questions from MPs of all parties on everything from COVID to the economy.
Mr Johnson‘s comments came after he joked to Tory MPs in a private meeting that “capitalism” and “greed” were the reasons the UK’s vaccination rollout has been so successful.
But as he risked inflaming tensions with the EU amid its slow jab rollout, he backtracked, adding: “Actually I regret saying it. Forget I said that.”
One MP at the meeting said the remarks were a “complete joke” and Mr Johnson was talking about AstraZeneca “being philanthropic in non-profit production”.
“It’s pretty cheap to distort the meaning for political gain,” they added.