Minister Says UK Won Vaccine Race Because It's a 'Better Country'
“We’ve got the very best people in this country and we’ve obviously got the best medical regulator, much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have,” Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told LBC Radio on Thursday. “That doesn’t surprise me at all because we’re a much better country than every single one of them.”
The comments come after Business Secretary Alok Sharma was slapped down by Germany’s ambassador in London for claiming that the decision to approve the shot — which was developed in the U.S. and Germany — was a sign that “the U.K. led humanity’s charge against this disease.”
“Why is it so difficult to recognize this important step forward as a great international effort and success,” Andreas Michaelis said on Twitter. “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.”
The spat comes just as London needs friends in the European Union as talks on a post-Brexit free trade agreement reach their climax. France — which was at the center of Williamson’s boast — is threatening to veto a deal.
Even as they celebrated becoming the first Western nation to approve a coronavirus vaccine, the comments from Johnson’s ministers renewed old arguments over Brexit.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who welcomed a “triumph for humanity,” said the U.K. had been able to act so fast because Brexit gave the government extra freedom to move. But that was immediately disputed by June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which said their decision was made “using provisions under European law.”
While Johnson himself tried to stay out of the row, others agreed with Hancock. Hugo Fry, managing director of French drugmaker Sanofi’s U.K. business, told the Telegraph newspaper that the U.K.’s decoupling from the EU’s regulatory and purchasing mechanisms allowed for “nimble buying” of vaccine doses and a quick decision on the Pfizer/BioNTech shot.
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