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Much to everyone’s surprise, we have learned that Boris Johnson can – just occasionally – engage his brain before speaking. Having begun the Wednesday night Downing Street press briefing with his usual mangled militaristic and jingoistic metaphors about “the searchlights of science” and Britain having pioneered vaccination in the 18th century, he actually twice refrained from saying that Brexit was responsible for the UK being the first country to license the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Just imagine. A prime minister known for being a lying, opportunistic chancer actually decided to tell the truth for once.
Would that the same could be said for some of his cabinet colleagues. Only on Wednesday, Matt Hancock and Jacob Rees-Mogg had described the vaccine as a Brexit bonus. On Thursday, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary manchild who has yet to move up to secondary school level and whose career since winning Fireplace Salesman of the Year two years running in 2006 and 2007 has been a mystery to us all, ratcheted up the nationalism to a new level. Asked by LBC’s Nick Ferrari if Brexit had meant that the UK got the vaccine ahead of the EU and the US, Gav went rogue.
“Well I just reckon we’ve got the very best people in this country,” he said, “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. That doesn’t surprise me at all because we’re a much better country than every single one of them.” Even for Gav – the man, who before he was sacked as defence secretary, Private Pike, for leaking National Security Council briefings, had said in response to the Salisbury poisonings that “Russia should shut up and go away” – this was well out there.
Just think about the level of stupidity for a moment. Not only does Williamson have no firsthand knowledge of other country’s medical regulators – don’t forget he is also the education secretary who failed to spot in March that the coronavirus pandemic would have knock on consequences with the cancellation of school exams – he is seemingly unaware that Pfizer is a US company and that the vaccine is being produced in Belgium.
Quite apart from a willingness to casually insult the rest of the world for being more crap than the UK – one day Gav might like to compare global coronavirus death rates – he had singled out two countries that were at the forefront of the development of vaccines. It was much like saying that Britain was now in the lead in the space race because we have Tim Peake.
You’d have thought that Williamson might want to cut his losses at that point and try to steer the conversation back to his department’s plans to make exams easier next year. Or failing that, plans to admit girls to Eton: something that may have led to some unwanted pregnancies in Boris’s time.
But he carried on regardless, ignoring his special adviser who must have been making frantic throat cutting gestures in the corner of the room. Asked again if he was actually saying that Brexit had given the UK an advantage, he continued digging. “I think just being able to get on with things,” he said, “deliver it and the brilliant people in our medical regulator making it happen means that people in this country are going to be the first in the western world – in the world – to get that Pfizer vaccine.”
As if the rest of the world was on a deliberate go-slow, bogged down in pointless bureaucracy to deny their people the vaccine. One day it may dawn on him that the race to find a vaccine has been a global effort. You have to wonder what kompromat Gav has on the prime minister for him to somehow still remain a cabinet minister.
Thank God then for England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, the breakout star of the government’s team of scientific advisers, who had been sent out to do all the morning media rounds, on the grounds that he was just about the only person in the country the public trusted for independent advice. Talking on BBC Breakfast and Radio 5, he immediately trashed Williamson by saying no one should read anything much into the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency being the first to license the vaccine. Other countries were also working round the clock and he expected some of them to give their approval long before a needle had been jabbed into any Brit’s arm.
JVT – as he’s come to be known – gave similarly measured responses to other questions. The vaccine was our equaliser in the 70th minute: he can’t resist a football or train analogy. No, it hadn’t been fully tested on pregnant women, people over 50 were being prioritised because they accounted for 99% of all coronavirus deaths, the AstraZeneca results were looking promising as none who had been given the vaccine had been hospitalised and the long-term aim was for as many people as possible to be vaccinated to relieve pressure on the NHS and reduce infection rates.
And he was sure the MHRA were working as fast as possible on approving other vaccines but that they were an independent body and couldn’t be rushed. All the facts that ministers should have been saying but with the politics stripped out. Who knows? Experts might even catch on post Brexit after all.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Manchild Gavin Williamson plumbs new depths of stupidity | John Crace | Politics