Sadiq Khan accused Gavin Williamson of spouting “jingoistic nonsense” after he claimed that Britain approved a coronavirus vaccine first because it is a “much better” country than any other.

Asked whether the UK was able to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine so quickly because of Brexit, education secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“I just reckon we’ve got the best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulators. Much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have, that doesn’t surprise me at all because we’re a much better country than every single one of them, aren’t we?”

Pushed for an answer on whether Brexit was a factor, he added:

“I think being able to get on with things, deliver it and the brilliant people in our medical regulator making it happen means that people in this country are going to be the first ones in the western world, or in the world, to get that Pfizer vaccine. Real competitive advantage.”

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced that the vaccine will be available as early as next week.

It was developed and manufactured by the American company Pfizer and the German company BioNTech.

London mayor Sadiq Khan criticised Williamson for taking credit for the vaccine on behalf of the UK. He said:

“This is jingoistic nonsense. I’m as proud as the next man or woman, but this guy is the person responsible for education in our country. That’s the problem. He was being serious, by the way. He wasn’t making a joke. This sort of British exceptionalism, I think, is misleading.”

He went on to add:

“The evidence isn’t there. The evidence is that we used the rules that the EU designed and the European Medicines Agency. Our agency that gave the approval was using the European rules. We’ve not left the EU as far as the rules are concerned. The transition period means that up until the 31st December, we abide by EU rules.

So, I don’t want to take away from the brilliant news that we’re going to get this vaccine pretty soon, the brilliant news that an American-owned company had this manufactured in Belgium by Germans of Turkish origin, probably of Islamic faith, but this is good news. And I’m afraid what this politician is doing is typical English jingoism that I think is unnecessary and what it does is leads to a sort of us versus them that we don’t really need.”

Khan wasn’t the only one to find Williamson’s remarks “embarrassing”.

As he said, the news that lives could be saved through the rollout of a coronavirus vaccine is undoubtedly brilliant.

But claiming it as a British victory is disingenuous and perpetuates the myth of British exceptionalism.

What more should we expect, though, from the government who wanted to have the Union Jack printed on injection kits? 

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