The Tories are trying to claim that the speedy approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine was only possible because of Brexit.
Certain MPs have appropriated the MHRA’s (Medicine and Healthcare Regulatory Agency) decision as a win for the UK following its exit from the EU.
But the MHRA still follows European rules, and will continue to do so at least until the end of the transition period on 31st December.
Indeed, it would have been possible for the UK to approve a vaccine before the rest of the EU even if we hadn’t voted to leave.
Although the government recently issued a press release clarifying this, the law allowing it came into effect in 2012.
EU member states have been invited to take part in a strategy that means no individual country’s regulator will approve a coronavirus vaccine faster than the European Medicines Agency (EMA). But signing onto it is a choice, and one that the UK could have rejected.
Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, told press that they had the choice to fast-track vaccine approval but decided against it because a “common approach” would “create confidence” in its efficacy.
On top of this, the Pfizer/BioNTech was primarily developed by Turkish immigrants in Germany and was manufactured in Belgium for an American company. Claiming it as any kind of win for the UK is a bit of an exaggeration.
But that hasn’t stopped these MPs…
1. Matt Hancock
In an interview on talkRADIO, the health secretary said:
“It is absolutely clear that because we’ve left the EU I was able to change the law so that the UK alone could make this authorisation decision. So, because we’ve left the EU we’ve been able to move faster.”
But the MHRA’s chief executive Dr June Raine appeared to contradict Hancock in an announcement broadcast by the BBC.
“We’ve been able to authorise supply of this vaccine using provisions under European law which exist until 1st January. … I hope that clarifies the point about the European relationship.”
2. Jacob Rees-Mogg
Hancock isn’t the only MP to have falsely claimed that we have Brexit to thank for the MHRA’s speed. Rees-Mogg wrote on Twitter:
“We could only approve this vaccine so quickly because we have left the EU.”
3. Nadine Dorries
The Brexiteer and minister for mental health wrote:
“Thanks to Brexit we can now move ahead swiftly and safely.”
Education secretary Gavin Williamson was asked whether he thought Brexit had helped speed the vaccine’s approval, to which he responded that it was because Britain is “much better” than any other country. He was accused of spouting “jingoistic nonsense”.
Boris Johnson responded to a similar question by paying “tribute” to the NHS and vaccine task force and side-stepping Brexit. So at least that’s something.