“The European Medicines Agency ... would have made [the vaccine] rollout impossible.”

Boris Johnson, House of Commons

February 24, 2021

Facts

Boris Johnson said that EU regulations would have stood in the way of the vaccine rollout. He said: “[Keir Starmer] calls for us to go faster with rolling out vaccines when he would have stayed in the European Medicines Agency (EMA) which would have made that rollout impossible.”

Even if we were still a member of the EU, the UK regulator would have been able to take this decision on its own because EU law already allowed it. The EU legislation took effect in the UK in 2012, long before Brexit was on the cards.

A UK government press release from 23 November 2020 spelt this out in terms. “If a suitable COVID-19 vaccine candidate, […] becomes available before the end of the transition period, EU legislation which we have implemented via Regulation 174 of the Human Medicines Regulations allows the MHRA to temporarily authorise the supply of a medicine or vaccine, based on public health need.”

Britain was still bound by the EMA regulations when the vaccine rollout began in December 2020.

The head of the MHRA, June Raine, clarified the situation when she said: “we have been able to authorise the supply of this vaccine using provisions under European Law which exist until 1st of January.”

Verdict

This assertion by Johnson and other ministers was a major influence on public attitudes to Brexit. The boast by Boris Johnson that EU regulations would have thwarted the British vaccination programme was false. 

Johnson’s false statement remains on the Commons record in defiance of the Ministerial Code.  The Prime Minister’s failure to correct the record here leaves us with no alternative than to conclude that Boris Johnson was lying to parliament. 

It is also significant that other ministers also claimed Britain could not have rolled out its vaccine programme so quickly inside the EU. Here are Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nadine Dorries and Matt Hancock, all making the same false claim.

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