We’re Better Than the US or France, UK Minister Says After Vaccine Approval

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson also said the UK was better than Belgium but we couldn't fit that into the headline.
December 3, 2020, 11:18am
Gavin Williamson LBC interview
Gavin Williamson. Photo: LBC/Twitter

UK Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said Britain became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine because “we’re a much better country”.

His comments, made to radio station LBC while grinning wildly, follow false claims by British government ministers that Brexit had allowed the UK to become the first Western country to approve a coronavirus vaccine for use.

Specifically asked by host Nick Ferrari whether leaving the EU had allowed the UK to get the vaccine ahead of the US or the European Union, Williamson said: “Well I just reckon we’ve got the very 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.”

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Williamson – who presided over a huge screw-up with an algorithm used to generate exam grades for school leavers, said Russia “should go away, it should shut up” after the novichok attack in Salisbury while he was defence secretary, and who was sacked by former prime minister Theresa May for leaking sensitive information relating to Huawei – was asked again whether Brexit was a factor in the UK’s independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approving the vaccine for deployment.

He replied: “I think just 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 world to get that Pfizer vaccine, real competitive advantage. But do you know who it’s down to: those brilliant, brilliant clinicians in the regulator who’ve made it happen so fast, so our thanks go out to them.”

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock had said yesterday: “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,” he said.

Williamson and Hancock’s cabinet colleagues were also keen to emphasise the role played by Brexit in the vaccine authorisation, including Business Secretary Alok Sharma, who said the UK was leading “humanity’s charge against this disease” by authorising a vaccine developed by American and German companies (the latter of which was founded by Turkish immigrants), manufactured in Belgium, and that only exists because of trials carried out in the US, Germany, Turkey, South Africa, Brazil and Argentina.

Although the UK did leave the EU at the end of January this year, it is still in a “transition period” – due to end on New Year’s Eve – where EU regulations and laws that Britain signed up to are still in effect.

The MHRA is still operating within the European framework, which allows independent national regulators to temporarily authorise the supply of a vaccine, depending upon public health requirements.

When asked whether Brexit had allowed the UK to approve the COVID vaccine faster, the actual head of the MHRA, Dr June Raine, said: “We have been able to authorise the supply of the vaccine using provisions under European law which exist until 1 January.”

Whew. As a palate cleanser, here’s Gavin Williamson having an interview “terminated” by a daytime TV host while an elephant ambles behind him.