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Furious Keir Starmer confronts Boris Johnson after PMQs

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Keir Starmer tonight humiliatingly admitted he misled the Commons by denying he had called for the UK to stay in the European Medicines Agency – amid claims he confronted Boris Johnson and ‘ranted’ at him after a brutal clash over vaccines at PMQs.

The Labour leader issued the grovelling apology after witnesses told how he ‘lost it’ when Mr Johnson said he had wanted to stay in the EMA – which has been slated for dragging its heels over vaccine approvals, contributing to the chaos in the EU.

The premier swiped that Britain’s Covid-19 vaccine programme would still be at the ‘starting blocks’ under Labour. 

Sir Keir shot back on the EMA claim: ‘I’ve never said that, from this despatch box or anywhere else.’ 

But in a statement this evening Labour said Sir Keir had ‘misheard’ and assumed the premier was ‘falsely’ accusing him of having wanted to join the EU’s vaccine procurement programme.

‘This afternoon during Prime Minister’s Questions, Keir misheard the Prime Minister and assumed he was making the same false accusation again,’ a spokesman said.

‘Keir accepts that, on this occasion, the Prime Minister was referring to old comments about the European Medicines Agency and Keir admits he was wrong and made a mistake in his response.’

Tories said Sir Keir, not wearing a mask, started berating the premier by the doors to the Commons chamber after the session.     

They insisted Mr Johnson ‘kept his cool’ and tried to ‘close down’ the argument by saying Sir Keir’s position was on the record, before a Labour whip ‘dragged’ the party leader away.

However, Labour said the leaders had a perfectly friendly chat’ and the idea Sir Keir was enraged was ‘absolute b*****s’.  

While the UK’s rollout has surged ahead with the milestone of 10million people given vaccine doses reached today, the EU’s programme has descended into a shambles with the central regulator far slower to sign off jabs and the bloc moving too late to secure supplies.

The fallout on the continent triggered threats from Ursula von der Leyen to bar exports to the UK an impose a hard border with Northern Ireland, which was later humiliatingly dropped. And Emmanuel Macron was among the leaders who launched baseless attacks on the effectiveness of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca jab – even though the EU has been desperately trying to obtain stocks.     

Ministers have claimed that Britain was able to act far more nimbly because of Brexit and using its own MHRA watchdog.    

Boris Johnson

Keir Starmer

Witnesses said Keir Starmer (right) ‘lost it’ after Boris Johnson (left) accused him of wanting to stay in the European Medicines Agency

The confrontation happened moments after this shot of PMQs ending, but was not caught on camera as the sitting had been suspended

The confrontation happened moments after this shot of PMQs ending, but was not caught on camera as the sitting had been suspended  

How Keir Starmer repeatedly called for UK to stay in the European Medicines Agency 

Sir Keir Starmer insisted in the Commons that he ‘never’ called for the UK to stay aligned to the European Medicines agency.

But in fact he did throughout much of 2017, when he was shadow Brexit Secretary.

His stance was backed by most of the Parliamentary party, amid pressure for the EU referendum to be re-run or overturned. 

17 January 2017, House of Commons 

‘The European Aviation Safety Agency, which deals with safety; the European Medicines Agency; and Europol, which I worked with for many years. Those are the bits of the EU that we should be seeking to retain, not throw away.’ 

31 January 2017, House of Commons

‘Why would we want to be outside the European Aviation Safety Agency, which certifies aircraft before they are allowed to fly? Why would we want to be outside the European Medicines Agency, which ensures that all medicines in the EU market are safe and effective?’ 

2 March 2017, New European article 

‘We will also argue for continued membership of agencies such as Euratom (the European Atomic Energy Community), the European Aviation Safety Agency (which certifies aircraft before they are allowed to fly), the European Medicines Agency (EMA), Europol and Eurojust.’ 

25 April 2017, Press release 

‘We will seek to maintain membership of or equivalent relations with European organisations which offer benefits to the UK, such as Euratom, the European Medicines Agency, Europol and Eurojust – two agencies I worked closely with as DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions).’ 

5 July, 2017 Financial Times

‘Labour knows that leaving the EMA could cause enormous disruption to our pharmaceutical industry (which employs 200,000 people across the UK), lead to additional and unnecessary regulation and cause delays and rising costs for new drugs reaching our National Health Service.’ 

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He said Sir Keir had repeatedly called for the UK to stay in the European Medicines Agency, and suggested such a move would have hampered the UK’s response to the pandemic.

But a clearly infuriated Sir Keir branded the remarks ‘complete nonsense’ and suggested the ‘truth escapes’ the Prime Minister.

Mr Johnson pulled faces and puffed his cheeks in response to Sir Keir’s answer.

Comments from Sir Keir contained in Hansard, the official record of Parliament, in January 2017 show him questioning why the UK would want to leave the body and that it should be something retained as part of the Brexit process.

Conservative former minister Mark Francois later raised a point of order in a bid to correct the record and highlight Sir Keir’s previous remarks.

Labour tried to dismiss the allegations of a confrontation afterwards, with a party source saying: ‘They had a perfectly reasonable conversation as they often do after PMQs.’  

Labour whip Chris Matheson, who was said to have pulled Sir Keir away from the spat, said: ‘It’s absolute b*****s. There was a brief chat and then Keir and I left together. Nothing more to it than that.’ 

Kicking off the row at PMQs, Mr Johnson said: ‘If we had listened to (Sir Keir), we would still be at the starting blocks because he wanted to stay in the European Medicines Agency and said so four times from that despatch box.’

Sir Keir responded: ‘Complete nonsense. Don’t let the truth get in the way of a pre-prepared gag.

‘The Prime Minister knows I’ve never said that, from this despatch box or anywhere else, the truth escapes him.’

However, Hansard records and other sources show that in fact Sir Keir did back the UK staying aligned to the EMA through much of 2017, when he was shadow Brexit secretary.

On January 31 of that year he told the House of Commons: ‘Why would we want to be outside the European Medicines Agency, which ensures that all medicines in the EU market are safe and effective?’ 

In the Financial Times the following July he was still endorsing staying in the body.

‘Labour knows that leaving the EMA could cause enormous disruption to our pharmaceutical industry (which employs 200,000 people across the UK), lead to additional and unnecessary regulation and cause delays and rising costs for new drugs reaching our National Health Service,’ Sir Keir wrote. 

His stance was backed by most of the Parliamentary party at the time, amid pressure for the EU referendum to be re-run or overturned. 

Meanwhile, a leaked Labour ‘rebranding’ plan has suggested Sir Keir should pose with the union flag and military personnel to reconnect Labour with traditional voters.

The strategy, presented to officials by the party’s head of research last month, stresses the need for a more patriotic image in the wake of the disastrous Jeremy Corbyn era.

It suggested Sir Keir makes ‘use of the flag, veterans’ to convince disaffected former voters that Labour reflects their values.

There was also a reference to ‘dressing smartly at the war memorial’ – an apparent swipe at Mr Corbyn notoriously wearing a scruffy-looking anorak to the Cenotaph wreath-laying in 2018. 

In a warning sign for Sir Keir, although he is seen as a positive asset for the party focus groups showed voters have noticed his habit of ‘sitting on the fence’. 

The Labour leadership seem to have taken the advice to heart already, with Sir Keir seen against the backdrop of the union flag for speeches and party political broadcasts over recent weeks.

Meanwhile, Sir Keir looks to be trying to shake off his reputation for facing both ways on issues like Brexit, including by demanding blanket Covid ‘quarantine hotel’ rules for UK arrivals, and making a bold call for teachers to be prioritised for vaccinations over half-term.   

The extraordinary row was sparked after Mr Johnson claimed Britain's Covid-19 vaccine programme would still be at the 'starting blocks' under Labour

The extraordinary row was sparked after Mr Johnson claimed Britain’s Covid-19 vaccine programme would still be at the ‘starting blocks’ under Labour

Wave the flag and dress smartly at the Centotaph: Labour’s  ‘patriotic’ plan to win back Red Wall 

Keir Starmer should pose with the union flag and military personnel to reconnect Labour with traditional voters, according to a leaked ‘rebranding’ plan.

The strategy, presented to officials by the party’s head of research last month, stresses the need for a more patriotic image in the wake of the disastrous Jeremy Corbyn era.

It suggested Sir Keir makes ‘use of the flag, veterans’ to convince disaffected former voters that Labour reflects their values.

There was also a reference to ‘dressing smartly at the war memorial’ – an apparent swipe at Mr Corbyn notoriously wearing a scruffy-looking anorak to the Cenotaph wreath-laying in 2018. 

In a warning sign for Sir Keir, although he is seen as a positive asset for the party focus groups showed voters have noticed his habit of ‘sitting on the fence’. 

The Labour leadership seem to have taken the advice to heart already, with Sir Keir seen against the backdrop of the union flag for speeches and party political broadcasts over recent weeks.

Meanwhile, Sir Keir looks to be trying to shake off his reputation for facing both ways on issues like Brexit, including by demanding blanket Covid ‘quarantine hotel’ rules for UK arrivals, and making a bold call for teachers to be prioritised for vaccinations over half-term.  

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The row over the EMA was not the only flashpoint between the leaders at PMQs.

The Labour leader demanded to know why ministers had not followed the views of scientists two weeks ago that a ‘pre-emptive closure of borders or the mandatory quarantine of all visitors upon arrival’ was the only way to stem the flow of variants. 

But Mr Johnson said the UK had one of the ‘toughest regimes in the world’ and stressed that ‘quarantine hotels’ are being brought in for high-risk countries – although he did not indicate when. 

‘It is not practical completely to close off this country as he seems to be suggesting. What is practical to do is have one of the toughest regimes in the world and to get on with vaccinating the people of this country,’ the premier said. 

The exchanges came after Matt Hancock said UK border rules will get tougher to protect against emerging strains.

‘We are also looking to strengthen measures in particular for those countries that have the highest risk,’ he said in a round of interviews.

But amid fresh signs of tensions in Cabinet, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps struck a different tone as he gave evidence to MPs.

He insisted the UK could not do a full Australia-style lockdown with blanket ‘hotel quarantine’ rules because it was an ‘island’ and needed food imports.

On suggestions the ‘red list’ of travel ban countries will be expanded, Mr Shapps told the transport committee: ‘It might go to more in the future… we simply don’t know until the virus decides what it wants to do.’ 

The government moved to bolster the border regime last week, announcing that the ban on travellers from 33 ‘hotspot’ countries will be tightened so returning Britons and the few other permitted individuals will have to go into ‘quarantine hotels’ at their own expense for 10 days.

But the plan was the subject of an extraordinary Cabinet tussle, with Priti Patel and Mr Hancock among those pushing for even tougher action. 

Ministers will meet tomorrow to consider expanding the ‘red list’ – which includes South Africa, South America and Portugal as well as the UAE. 

Officials have also been looking at tightening exemptions to the travel rules, amid concerns that some are being exploited by people seeking to get around the holiday ban.

EU flunked vaccine challenge because it invested SEVEN TIMES less per head than Britain or US on developing jabs before they passed clinical trials 

Britain and the US both spent seven times more on vaccine development than the EU, figures reveal – with both nations now outpacing the bloc’s beleaguered rollout.

The UK committed £1.67billion on Covid vaccines before it was known whether they would be effective – more than the £1.57billion the EU spent on behalf of 27 countries, with Britain spending £25.00 per capita compared to £3.51 for Brussels. 

The US government spent £7.9billion in total, according to the figures from science analytics firm Airfinity, an outlay of £24.02 for each of its 330million people. 

Now that the jabs have passed their trials, it is mainland Europe which is struggling to ramp up vaccinations and feuding with AstraZeneca about supplies to the continent. 

In addition, Brussels did not strike a deal with Pfizer until clinical trials had been concluded – while Britain and the US had deals in place in July 2020.  

The UK now ranks third in the world with 13.2 per cent of the population getting at least one dose of a vaccine, while America is fifth on 7.6 per cent and the EU is languishing on 2.2 per cent. 

French government minister Clement Beaune lashed out at Britain today by casting doubt on the UK’s one-dose strategy, saying: ‘I do not think that our citizens would accept us taking all these risks contrary to the opinion of our scientists’. 

In fact, the UK’s four chief medical officers have backed the one-dose strategy and said that a single shot offers ‘considerable protection’ at least in the short term. 

Meanwhile Angela Merkel – who has come under criticism for letting the EU take the lead – announced a ‘summit’ of drugmakers and officials in a bid to get more jabs.  

The UK committed £1.67billion on Covid vaccines before it was known whether they would be effective - more than the £1.57billion the EU put forward for its 448million people, with Britain spending £25.00 per capita compared to £3.51 for Brussels. The US government spent £7.9billion in total, according to the figures from science analytics firm Airfinity, an outlay of £24.02 for each of its 330million people

The UK committed £1.67billion on Covid vaccines before it was known whether they would be effective – more than the £1.57billion the EU put forward for its 448million people, with Britain spending £25.00 per capita compared to £3.51 for Brussels. The US government spent £7.9billion in total, according to the figures from science analytics firm Airfinity, an outlay of £24.02 for each of its 330million people

This chart from Our World In Data shows how the UK and US are both outpacing the EU's beleaguered vaccine rollout, with far slower progress in the 27-member bloc

This chart from Our World In Data shows how the UK and US are both outpacing the EU’s beleaguered vaccine rollout, with far slower progress in the 27-member bloc 

UNITED KINGDOM

Widely criticised for its handling of the pandemic, the UK government has boasted of its vaccine rollout as a rare success story in recent weeks.

Nearly nine million people in the UK have received a first dose of the vaccine after the UK switched strategies to hand out single doses to as many people as possible.   

It comes after Britain spent nearly £1.67billion investing in vaccines and signed a deal in May 2020 to get the AstraZeneca vaccine developed with Oxford scientists. 

As the EU row flared up last week, AstraZeneca’s CEO Pascal Soriot pointed to Britain’s earlier deal as a reason why the UK was enjoying uninterrupted supplies. 

‘The UK contract was signed three months before the European contract. So with the UK we have had an extra three months to fix all the glitches we experienced,’ he said.   

In addition, the UK described its deal for 30million Pfizer/BioNTech jabs last July as the company’s ‘first binding agreement signed with any government’. 

When Pfizer’s product became the first coronavirus vaccine approved in the West, it was Britain which handed out the historic first doses in early December. 

The UK is also in line for 60million doses of another jab from Novavax, which will be made in Teesside and passed clinical trials last week.  

However, the UK is behind the US and EU in getting hold of the Moderna vaccine, which is not expected to arrive in Britain until the spring.  

Britain has also boasted of continuing to fund vaccine development even after some jabs have become available, with ministers today announcing a deal for 40million yet-to-be-approved Valneva jabs. 

Touting their ‘wide approach’ to investing in vaccines, ministers said the deal was an ‘endorsement of the UK government’s strategy of investing in vaccine development’.  

‘It will also give the UK future flexibility should we need to revaccinate any of the population,’ a statement said. 

Britain handed out the first doses of a fully-tested coronavirus vaccine anywhere in the world, with Margaret Keenan (pictured) getting the historic first jab

Britain handed out the first doses of a fully-tested coronavirus vaccine anywhere in the world, with Margaret Keenan (pictured) getting the historic first jab  

EUROPEAN UNION

The EU and many of its 27 members have faced criticism over their sluggish rollout, with fewer than 10million people getting a dose so far across the entire bloc. 

While excessive bureaucracy in countries such as France and Germany has been one reason for the slow start, the EU has also struggled to get hold of enough supplies. 

Pfizer and BioNTech have slowed down production to make manufacturing changes, while AstraZeneca said it was cutting supplies to the EU in the first quarter of 2021. 

That prompted outrage from Brussels, which imposed export controls last week to supervise vaccines leaving the bloc for other countries. 

Pharmaceutical companies have since made public pledges to make up for the shortfalls with additional doses later on – though none has pledged to speed up the initial delivery, meaning the EU’s Covid pain will drag on for some time.

BioNTech and Pfizer have promised to send up to 75 million extra doses to the bloc in the spring thanks to progress at key manufacturing sites.

Meanwhile Ursula von der Leyen, who signed the vaccine contracts on behalf of the bloc, said Sunday that AstraZeneca would deliver 40 million doses in total in the first quarter – 30 per cent more previously promised – but shipments will not start until the second week of February. 

And chemicals giant Bayer announced that from 2022 it would produce a coronavirus vaccine that fellow German pharmaceuticals company CureVac is developing.

CureVac CEO Franz-Werner Haas said his company would also produce several hundred million doses of its own vaccine by the end of 2021.

CureVac’s mRNA vaccine has yet to receive the green light from regulators, but German health minister Jens Spahn said it was ‘on its way to approval in the coming weeks’.

French pharma group Sanofi agreed last week to help produce 125 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. 

A European source said on Monday that Germany was putting ‘tremendous’ pressure on the Commission to improve the vaccine rollout, adding that von der Leyen’s position had been ‘severely weakened’. 

While Brussels boasts of having a portfolio of 2.3billion doses, it has paid dearly for failing to sign its agreement with AstraZeneca until August last year.  

Meanwhile, the EU’s contract with Pfizer was not signed until November 2020, two days after the company had announced its successful trial results.  

The Pfizer rollout did not begin until the very end of December, and even a month later the daily vaccination rates in countries such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain are well below those in Britain and the US. 

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, pictured in Brussels on Sunday, has come under pressure over the bloc's slow jab rollout

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, pictured in Brussels on Sunday, has come under pressure over the bloc’s slow jab rollout 

Brussels did sign a deal with Moderna days before Britain, but again this was after the jab had already passed clinical trials. 

And the EU was again shown to be lagging when the Novavax trial results were published last week showing 89.3 per cent efficacy. 

While Britain has 60million doses ordered, the EU has only conducted ‘exploratory talks’ with the manufacturer, which were completed in December. 

Even then, the 200million doses envisaged in an ‘exploratory contract’ are a smaller stockpile when adjusted for population size than Britain has ordered.  

The EU also has other agreements in place with vaccines from Sanofi-GSK and CureVac, which have yet to conclude clinical trials.  

UNITED STATES

Like Britain, the US has received little praise for its handling of the pandemic but has had better luck with the vaccine rollout than with preventing infections and deaths. 

More than 25million people have received at least one vaccine dose in the US, 2.5 times more than in the EU despite the bloc’s larger population. 

Joe Biden’s target of one million vaccinations a day has already been met, with the president now targeting a 50 per cent increase to take the rate to 1.5million a day. 

People line up to receive a coronavirus vaccine in California, with the US ranking fifth in the world by number of people who have received at least one dose

People line up to receive a coronavirus vaccine in California, with the US ranking fifth in the world by number of people who have received at least one dose 

Deals signed under the Trump administration included an agreement for up to 600million Pfizer doses last July, around the same time as in Britain. 

America is also using the Moderna vaccine after placing an order for 100million doses last August, before either Britain or the EU had signed a deal. 

The federal government poured nearly $2billion into Pfizer’s research last July as well as $1.2billion to AstraZeneca and $1.6billion for Novavax manufacturing. 

However, while the US has a deal for 300million AstraZeneca doses, the jab has yet to be approved by federal regulators. 

Several vaccine trials took place in the United States, including the Johnson & Johnson jab which was shown to be 72 per cent effective there. 

The US is in line to get 100million doses of the jab. 

 

 

Boris Johnson says Britain CAN’T shut its borders entirely to prevent mutant Covid strains as he denies ignoring SAGE advice – but fails to give a date when ‘quarantine hotels’ will be up and running amid Cabinet tensions 

Boris Johnson today warned that Britain cannot shut its borders completely to prevent mutant coronavirus strains getting in as he denied ignoring SAGE advice.

The PM insisted closing off the country altogether was ‘not practical’ as he clashed bitterly with Keir Starmer in the Commons this afternoon. 

The Labour leader demanded to know why ministers had not followed the views of scientists two weeks ago that a ‘pre-emptive closure of borders or the mandatory quarantine of all visitors upon arrival’ was the only way to stem the flow of variants. 

But Mr Johnson said the UK had one of the ‘toughest regimes in the world’ and stressed that ‘quarantine hotels’ are being brought in for high-risk countries – although he did not indicate when. 

‘It is not practical completely to close off this country as he seems to be suggesting. What is practical to do is have one of the toughest regimes in the world and to get on with vaccinating the people of this country,’ the premier said. 

The exchanges came after Matt Hancock said UK border rules will get tougher to protect against emerging strains.

The border crackdown comes amid fears the South African variant is already loose in the UK, and other more potent mutant strains could lessen the effectiveness of the vaccine drive. PIctured, Heathrow Airport

The border crackdown comes amid fears the South African variant is already loose in the UK, and other more potent mutant strains could lessen the effectiveness of the vaccine drive. PIctured, Heathrow Airport

Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the current 'stringent' measures - but made clear that even harsher arrangements are in the pipeline

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps struck a different tone as he gave evidence to MPs. He insisted the UK could not do a full Australia-style lockdown with blanket 'hotel quarantine' rules because it was an 'island' and needed food imports

Health Secretary Matt Hancock (left) defended the current ‘stringent’ measures – but made clear that even harsher arrangements are in the pipeline. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (right) struck a different tone as he gave evidence to MPs

‘We are also looking to strengthen measures in particular for those countries that have the highest risk,’ he said in a round of interviews.

But amid fresh signs of tensions in Cabinet, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps struck a different tone as he gave evidence to MPs.

He insisted the UK could not do a full Australia-style lockdown with blanket ‘hotel quarantine’ rules because it was an ‘island’ and needed food imports.

On suggestions the ‘red list’ of travel ban countries will be expanded, Mr Shapps told the transport committee: ‘It might go to more in the future… we simply don’t know until the virus decides what it wants to do.’ 

The government moved to bolster the border regime last week, announcing that the ban on travellers from 33 ‘hotspot’ countries will be tightened so returning Britons and the few other permitted individuals will have to go into ‘quarantine hotels’ at their own expense for 10 days.

But the plan was the subject of an extraordinary Cabinet tussle, with Priti Patel and Mr Hancock among those pushing for even tougher action. 

Ministers will meet tomorrow to consider expanding the ‘red list’ – which includes South Africa, South America and Portugal as well as the UAE. 

Officials have also been looking at tightening exemptions to the travel rules, amid concerns that some are being exploited by people seeking to get around the holiday ban.

DailyMail Online


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