Boris Johnson challenges EU after Italy blocks Covid vaccines shipment to Australia

Harry Yorke
·2-min read
Australia's prime minister, Scott Morrison, holds a press conference after Italy blocked the export of AstraZeneca's Covid vaccine to the country - Dean Lewins/Shutterstock
Australia's prime minister, Scott Morrison, holds a press conference after Italy blocked the export of AstraZeneca's Covid vaccine to the country - Dean Lewins/Shutterstock

Boris Johnson has challenged the EU's decision to approve the blockade of 250,000 AstraZeneca vaccines destined for Australia, warning that the restrictions "endanger" global efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Downing Street questioned the European Commission over its acceptance of the Italian government's decision to use EU-wide export controls to prevent the shipment from going ahead.

Asked about the controversy, Mr Johnson's spokesman pointed out that Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, had previously assured the Prime Minister that the controls would not be used in this way.

Speaking at the Number 10 daily lobby briefing, the spokesman said: "We're not privy to the specific agreements between other countries and vaccine manufacturers.

"However, the PM spoke to President von der Leyen earlier this year, and she confirmed that the focus of their mechanism was on transparency and not intended to restrict exports by companies where they are fulfilling contractual responsibilities.

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"We would expect the EU to continue to stand by its commitments. The global recovery from Covid relies on international collaboration. We are all dependent on global supply chains, and putting in place restrictions endangers global efforts to fight the virus."

Asked whether Mr Johnson believed Mrs von der Leyen was going back on her word, the spokesman repeated the previous answer.

The Prime Minister's concerns are shared by the World Health Organisation, which has previously warned that the EU export controls were part of a "worrying trend" that risked derailing global supply chains.

It comes after he held tense talks with Mrs von der Leyen in January in response to the bloc's aborted attempt to impose a hard border on the island of Ireland as part of its new export control measures. At the time, the EU insisted the measures were not about banning the export of jabs but instead increasing the transparency of vaccine manufacturers.

Meanwhile, Australia said on Friday that it was seeking assurances from the European Commission that future vaccine shipments would go ahead.

However, Greg Hunt, the Australian health minister, insisted the missing doses would not affect the country's vaccination programme, saying: "Australia has raised the issue with the European Commission through multiple channels, and in particular we have asked the European Commission to review this decision."

Australia began its vaccination programme last week, using the Pfizer vaccine, but was due to start using the Oxford jab imminently. It has already received 300,000 doses.

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