The first approval of a coronavirus vaccine for widespread use is, undoubtedly, a cause for celebration. It is a groundbreaking scientific achievement – or a “biological jiujitsu” if you’re Boris Johnson.
That the UK has become the first country to approve Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine, and that Brits are likely to be the first people to have it jabbed into their arms, is a welcome development.
But, already, the speed with which the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency ratified the vaccine has been interpreted by some – invariably Conservative ministers and MP – as an all-conquering justification for Brexit.
Britain’s momentous decision to leave the EU earlier this year, the argument goes, made it possible for the UK to diverge from Brussels and move quicker to approve the Pfizer jab. The European Medicines Agency is unlikely to give it the seal of approval until later this month.
Except that’s not true. As Dr June Raines, the MHRA chief, pointed out in her Downing Street press conference earlier on Wednesday, the UK was only able to move so quickly to give Pfizer the thumbs up because of a longstanding provision in EU law that, until 1 January, the UK benefits from.
A longstanding regulatory provision allows the MHRA to break away from the EMA on matters of urgency, Covid-19 being one such matter.
Still, that has not stopped several Tory MPs crowing that this scientific breakthrough – forged in Germany by a husband-and-wife pairing of Turkish immigrants and manufactured in Belgium – is a victory for Britain.
With fewer than 30 days until Brexit, it feels a bit like the government is keen for a win. Here are the ministers who have had their say thus far.