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BSI policy update

The BSI has continued to enjoy policy and public affairs successes over the summer period. This has included positive engagement with the new Government led by a new Prime Minister as well as talking to the Opposition and building on previous work.

All change in Westminster

When I wrote in the last issue of Immunology News, we were just gearing up to launch a new contacts programme to introduce the BSI and its agenda to a (mostly) new set of Ministers. This began with writing to the Prime Minister, Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP (Con, Uxbridge and South Ruislip) to discuss two major priorities: the need to tackle the worrying decline in childhood vaccination uptake through positive Government action; and the necessity of retaining the Government’s ambitious commitment to reach 2.4% GDP for R&D funding by 2027.

New Vaccine Strategy

While we were waiting for a reply to our letter, the UK lost its World Health Organization ‘measles free status’ and the Government took that opportunity to announce1 that it would be launching a new Vaccine Strategy to reverse the decreasing childhood vaccination uptake in England. A few weeks later, we received a letter back from Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford (Con), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Innovation in the Department of Health and Social Care, asking the BSI to contribute its thoughts to the previously announced Vaccine Strategy. We have since done so and look forward to seeing the results very soon. In early September, the BSI met with Jonathan Ashworth MP (Lab, Leicester South), Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to discuss, once again, policy initiatives that could reverse the recent decline in childhood vaccination coverage in England. The meeting was positive and productive with the BSI making several formal recommendations to inform Labour Party policy and ensure it is evidence based. This comes at an especially propitious time with a snap General Election having just been called. Because of this, the normal Labour Party policymaking process is sped up. This means that, rather than motions passed at party conference being developed into a manifesto over a number of years by the Labour National Policy Forum, the Leader of the Labour Party chairs a last minute manifesto-deciding ‘Clause V meeting’ attended by members of the National Executive Committee, Shadow Cabinet Members and senior trade unionists. So, it is good to have had the ear of a senior figure in the party at this time.

BSI policy input continues

While the summer parliamentary recess and prorogation have meant that there have been limited opportunities to engage with MPs on parliamentary questions (and debates), we have had the opportunity to feed in our views to Parliament and Government on almost myriad consultations. These have ranged from responding to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Vaccinations For All on ways to increase vaccine uptake; to making a submission2 to the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy’s inquiry on biosecurity and human health, which discussed the UK’s pandemic preparedness; to responding to the Government’s consultation on the ‘Prevention Green Paper’, which aims to put prevention at the heart of healthcare in England. Responding to consultations and inquiries is an excellent way for the BSI to inject its views into the heart of the UK’s policymaking and scrutiny processes.

Deal or no deal?

A Brexit deal, forged by UK and EU negotiators in Brussels and finally passed by Parliament in Westminster, has finally emerged. But the threat of it being subject to wrecking amendments by the ‘Remain Alliance’ was too great to risk after Parliament voted down Johnson’s breakneck speed timetable to get the deal through, which led to a General Election being called. Johnson will be hoping that his gamble, not too dissimilar to Theresa May’s in 2017, will pay off on 12 December. Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party will be hoping that the public’s focus will pivot away from Brexit as the campaign goes to focus on more run of the mill domestic priorities.

Labour is caught between two slogans: the Liberal Democrats’ ‘Stop Brexit’ and the Conservatives’ ‘Get Brexit Done’. It is hoping to unite the country by winning a majority in Parliament, renegotiating the deal with Brussels, then having a second referendum in which PM Corbyn will refuse to campaign for his own deal while senior members of his Cabinet campaign against it. Sounds simple.

In the meantime, while the Labour Party wrestles with itself, Prime Minister and amateur classicist Alexander Boris Johnson will be hoping that he emulates his namesake, Alexander the Great, and will be the one to slice through the Gordian knot that ties the UK to the European Union. Unfortunately for him, the sharpest instrument in Number 10 may be the Sword of Damocles hanging over Johnson himself with a far from guaranteed victory at the polls.

Matthew Gibbard
Policy & Public Affairs Manager, BSI


1. 2019 Prime Minister orders urgent action to improve vaccination uptake

2.  BSI 2019 Written evidence submitted by British Society for Immunology