Coronavirus: Regulator rejects Matt Hancock’s claim that UK got vaccine first because of Brexit

German ambassador says vaccine approval is ‘not a national story’

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 02 December 2020 18:53 GMT
Regulator rejects Matt Hancock’s claim that UK got vaccine first because of Brexit

Britain’s medicines regulator has contradicted claims by health secretary Matt Hancock that the UK got the first coronavirus vaccine faster because of Brexit.

And Mr Hancock’s boast of a “Brexit bonus” was later effectively slapped down by Boris Johnson, when the prime minister twice declined to claim any role for EU withdrawal in speeding up the approval of the jab.

Speaking shortly after the announcement that the Pfizer/BioNTec jab had been cleared for use by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), Mr Hancock said that the authorisation process was faster than in the EU because Britain was no longer a member.

But asked if this was the case, MHRA chief executive June Raine said the process was undertaken under the terms of European law, which remains in force until the completion of the Brexit transition at the end of 2020.

The discrepancy emerged as Germany’s ambassador to the UK hit out at ministers’ claims that authorisation of the vaccine developed by a German company was a win for Britain.

“Why is it so difficult to recognise this important step forward as a great international effort and success?” tweeted Andreas Michaelis. “I really don't think this is a national story. In spite of the German company BioNTech having made a crucial contribution, this is European and transatlantic.”

Speaking to Times Radio, Mr Hancock identified two reasons why the UK was the first country in the world to have a clinically authorised vaccine.

“Firstly, because the MRHA has done a great job of working with the company to look at that data as it’s come through and do things in parallel, rather than one after the other as they normally would, that’s the first reason,” he said.

“The second reason is because, whilst until earlier this year we were in the European Medicines Agency (EMA), because of Brexit we’ve been able to make a decision to do this based on the UK regulator, a world-class regulator, and not go at the pace of the Europeans, who are moving a little bit more slowly.

“We do all the same safety checks and the same processes, but we have been able to speed up how they’re done because of Brexit.”

But when she was asked at a 10 Downing Street press conference whether Brexit had made any difference to the speed at which the MHRA was able to work, Dr Raine stressed the fact that the regulator is still working under the terms of EU law.

“We have been able to authorise the supply of this vaccine using provisions under European law which exist until 1 January,” she said.

“Our speed, or our progress, has been totally dependent on the availability of data in our rolling review and the rigorous assessment and independent advice we have received.

“So I hope that clarifies the point about the European relationship.”

Asked twice at a later Downing Street press conference whether Brexit had played any role in speeding the process, Mr Johnson said only: “I think that’s really down to the Vaccine Task Force more than anything else, and the way that they organised it.”

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