In a testy exchange at Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson said of Keir Starmer:
“We are […] rolling out a vaccine programme that has now inoculated 4.2 million people in our country, whereas he would have joined the EU scheme”
He’s referring to the EU scheme in which member states agreed to move as one to get hold of covid vaccines. It ended up being slower than the UK’s own procurement and authorisation processes.
But was that ever the Labour leader’s position? The evidence the Conservatives have offered to FactCheck is shaky.
What about the rest of Labour?
The closest we’ve got is a tweet by Labour MP Catherine West, who in July last year described the UK’s decision to opt-out of the scheme as “dumber and dumber”.
The Conservatives told FactCheck that as a front-bench MP, Ms West’s comments should be taken to represent Labour policy – and that Sir Keir did not publicly disavow her statement.
We put that to Labour, who told us of the UK joining the EU vaccine scheme: “we have never called for this”.
The Conservatives also told FactCheck that it was Labour policy in 2018 to remain part of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and “adhere to the EU regulatory framework on the authorisation and conduct of clinical trials”.
The Conservatives seem to be suggesting that being part of the EMA and adhering to EU rules would have blocked the UK from issuing its own vaccine authorisation.
But as FactCheck reported last month, the EMA and EU law already allow national regulators to temporarily authorise the supply of a vaccine in an emergency like the pandemic. That’s why the UK regulator was able to sign off the Pfizer jab in December, while we were still in the Brexit transition period and subject to EU law.
(And even if the UK had still been a full EU member, we could have chosen not to take part in the joint vaccine scheme, which the European Commission confirmed to FactCheck was voluntary.)
The Conservatives also pointed us to a tweet by Labour’s Paul Blomfield from May 2020: “Backing the EU initiative for a coronavirus vaccine is a positive step, but we should participate in the EU’s pandemic warning system and the European Medicines Agency too”.
But the link he attaches seems to show that the “EU initiative” in question is a fund-raising project for vaccine research, not the joint procurement scheme. The same link quotes Michael Gove saying that the UK had signed up to it.
The Conservatives also highlighted a tweet by Labour’s Bell Ribeiro-Addy from July: “By refusing to join the EU’s vaccine scheme, the government is yet again putting ideology before saving lives.” However, Ms Ribeiro-Addy has never served in Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet and is not an official spokesperson for the party.
Boris Johnson claimed Keir Starmer would have had Britain join the EU’s vaccine procurement scheme, which turned out to be slower than the UK’s own.
Yet the Conservatives couldn’t point us to any instance of Mr Starmer saying that he wanted to be part of the scheme (we can’t find parliamentary records of this either). There were multiple instances of Labour politicians calling for greater alignment with the EU on various vaccine-related issues, but nothing about procurement from the leader himself.
The closest we’ve got is a tweet from a junior Labour shadow minister criticising the UK’s decision to opt out in July last year. Mr Starmer has not publicly distanced himself from the comment, though Labour told FactCheck that they have “never called for” the UK to join the EU vaccine procurement scheme.