Boris Johnson has warned that any move towards export bans on vaccines could affect investment decisions by multinational pharmaceutical companies.
Speaking shortly before a joint statement by the EU and Britain promising to co-operate on vaccines, Mr Johnson told MPs that his country’s partnership with the EU was very important.
“I don’t think that the blockades of either vaccines or of medicines or ingredients for vaccines are sensible, and I think that the long-term damage done by blockades can be very considerable,” he told a liaison committee at Westminster.
“I would just gently point out to anybody considering a blockade – or an 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 said that a recent surge in coronavirus cases in France could lead to tougher border controls for those crossing the channel. Many of those affected would be hauliers, and tougher restrictions could lead to disruption of trade.
“We will take a decision, no matter how tough, to interrupt those flows if we think it is necessary to protect public health and stop those variants coming in,” he said.
“We now, in all seriousness, need to look at the situation at the channel. We can’t rule out tougher measures, and if it’s necessary to bring in testing I think we will do so.”
Downing Street said earlier that Britain’s roadmap out of lockdown had not been thrown off course by the latest uncertainty about vaccine supply. According to the plan, non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality will reopen next month, indoor hospitality will return in May, and other restrictions will be gone by late June.
The nature of the reopening will depend on the outcome of government reviews of social distancing, vaccine passports and foreign travel.
Mr Johnson suggested on Wednesday that pubs and restaurants could require people to show evidence of immunity to coronavirus before entry. “I think that’s the kind of thing that may be up to individual publicans; it may be up to the landlord,” he said.
Asked about the infrequency of his contacts with Scottish and Welsh first ministers, Mr Johnson said he was prime minister of Scotland and Wales as well as of the UK. He did not want to turn the UK into a “mini-EU” with regular summits of the leaders of the devolved administrations.
The British government issued new guidance on Wednesday calling for the Union flag to be flown over all UK government buildings every day.
“People rightly expect to see the Union flag flying high on civic and government buildings up and down the country as a sign of our local and national identity,” said local government secretary Robert Jenrick.
“That’s why I am calling on all local councils to fly the Union flag on their buildings – and today’s guidance will enable them to do that. We’ve also cut red tape, allowing councils to also fly their county flag at the same time.”
The new guidance will not apply in Northern Ireland.