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03rd Dec 2020

No, Brexit did not speed up the UK’s coronavirus vaccine approval

Matt Hancock made inaccurate claims about authorising a coronavirus vaccine

Oli Dugmore

Matt Hancock made inaccurate claims about authorising a coronavirus vaccine

The UK is the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

During Wednesday morning’s broadcast round interviews, you may have heard Matt Hancock say something like this:

Earlier on, the health secretary had told Times Radio: “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 just hours later the actual vaccine regulator, Dr June Raine, contradicted Hancock during a government press conference when she was asked if leaving the EU had sped up approval.

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

Other politicians, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries, also repeated Hancock’s argument.

When the UK left the EU earlier this year a “transition period” began that carried over EU regulation until the end of 2020.

As part of EU membership, the approval of vaccines is centralised and under European control via the European Medicines Agency.

However, in time of health emergency individual countries are permitted to diverge from that regulation, as the BBC’s Ros Atkins later reported.

Jens Spahn, the german health minister, said yesterday: “We have member states including, Germany, who could have issued such an emergency authorisation if we’d wanted to. But we decided against this and what we opted for was a common European approach to move forward together.”

In other words, even if the UK remained a member state of the European Union we still would have had the option to diverge and go it alone.

So when asked by LBC‘s Nick Ferrari if Brexit had aided the process this mornng, education secretary Gavin Williamson wouldn’t make a causal link, simply stating that the UK had achieved a world-first before the US, France or Germany because the UK “is a much better country.”