Watch: Moment Starmer falsely accuses Johnson of lying in PMQs vaccine row
In their Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) clash on Wednesday, Johnson mocked Starmer over his past support of the EU’s European Medicines Agency, saying he had promoted it at the House of Commons despatch box.
Starmer accused Johnson of lying, saying he had “never said that from this despatch box or anywhere else”.
However, parliamentary records show the Labour leader has in fact supported the European Medicines Agency from the despatch box in the past.
And his spokeswoman said later on Wednesday: “Keir admits he was wrong and made a mistake in his response.” She claimed Starmer had “misheard”.
It happened after Johnson defended the government’s restrictions on international arrivals from “red-list countries”, saying they are to “allow us to get on with the vaccination programme”.
The PM then added: “If we had listened to [Starmer] we would still be at the starting blocks because he wanted to stay in the European Medicines Agency, and said so four times from the despatch box.”
Starmer rejected this, saying it was “nonsense”.
“Don’t let the truth get in the way of a pre-prepared gag,” he told Johnson. “The PM knows I have never said that from this despatch box or anywhere else but the truth escapes him.”
However, a search of the words “European Medicines Agency” on Hansard, the official record of parliamentary debates, contradicts Starmer’s claim that he had “never said that”.
Hansard shows Starmer having twice – not four times, as Johnson said – spoken in support of the European Medicines Agency at the Commons despatch box during debates about Brexit four years ago.
On 17 January, 2017, then-shadow Brexit secretary Starmer said:
“Mr Speaker, let me give three examples without the details: 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.”
And on 31 January, 2017, Starmer said:
“Why would we want to be outside the European Medicines Agency, which ensures that all medicines in the EU market are safe and effective?”
The European Medicines Agency, the EU’s drugs regulator which approves the use of vaccines in the bloc, has been under scrutiny following the slow rollout of COVID-19 jabs across the EU, particularly compared to the UK.
Following PMQs, The Sun reported Starmer and Johnson had a “heated exchange” about the issue outside the chamber.
The paper quoted an eyewitness as saying Starmer had claimed his support for the European Medicines Agency was “nothing to do with the vaccine”, with Johnson reportedly responding: “Check the record, you said it.”
However, a Labour MP who was present during the exchange later said reports of it being an argument were “b*******”.
Chester MP Chris Matheson said: “It’s absolute b*******. There was a brief chat and then Keir and I left together. Nothing more to it than that.”
In the statement early on Wednesday evening, Starmer’s spokeswoman said: “On a number of occasions the PM has wrongly claimed that Labour wanted to join the EU’s vaccine programme. That is inaccurate and the claim has been found to be untrue.
“This afternoon during PMQs, Keir misheard the PM and assumed he was making the same false accusation again.
“Keir accepts that, on this occasion, the PM was referring to old comments about the European Medicines Agency and Keir admits he was wrong and made a mistake in his response.
“It’s not Labour policy to join either the European Medicines Agency or the EU vaccine programme. We have never called for the UK to be in the EU vaccine programme. We remain committed to working with the government to ensure we can be the first in the world to roll out the vaccine.”
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