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Written by an MP and former Liberal party Minister

Hat tip again to John Stone.

The UK is holding a long and expensive inquiry into how its various governments handled the covid epidemic and into the response of the NHS. There are many questions to answer and lessons to be learned. In due course the work of the committee will trigger more Parliamentary and public debate. It should mean we enter any future health alarm better prepared and better informed.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation shaped much of the work on Covid-19. It published data and advice on how to handle matters, and seemingly sought to be a world Government for the pandemic. Despite this, it is not holding an open public inquiry into what it got right and wrong. 

There will be no public scrutiny and debate over how quickly it responded to the initial outbreak, how long it took to offer good advice to member countries, whether its role in vaccines and medicines was helpful, why its statistics seemingly lacked a common basis to make fair comparisons between countries or even whether its thoughts on the duration and severity of lockdowns did get it right, given the damage done to economies and healthcare systems.  

It is alarming, then, that the WHO is now seeking to lock us into a new treaty which would empower it to set a policy on stockpiles and access to medicines, vaccines and health equipment, including obliging Britain to hand over up to 20 per cent of pandemic-related health products. 

If this right is granted, it could prove the thin edge of the wedge. It’s not hard to see how the WHO might try to take powers over a wider range of issues relating to the response to any new health problem it identifies as being in its area of influence. Instead of getting on with organising our own reply to a pandemic and offering generous assistance to others as we did in 2020, the UK would be puzzling over legal advice worrying about what we were allowed to do for ourselves and what we had to share or accept from the WHO.

British governments and opposition parties should have learned by now that our voters do not want their powers of self-government removed by signing up to international treaties. The public expect their elected Ministers to make the decisions that affect us all and keep us safe, in an accountable Parliament and with much debate and criticism to try to get it right.  

The UK is a generous country that has done a lot to help others with medicines, vaccines and aid money. During the pandemic UK scientists played a leading role in finding a vaccine for the virus. It would be wrong to seek to organise and control this kind of response and bring it under the powers of an unaccountable world body. In a future crisis I am sure the UK will offer leadership, be helpful to others and attentive to all that is best about World Health Organization research and knowledge. What we do not need is a power loss to sort things out quickly, or an army of lawyers running the policy. This is a good treaty not to sign.

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