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Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab discusses AstraZeneca vaccine safety

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab discussed the policing of Sarah Everard’s vigil, the safety of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and more on today’s Good Morning Britain. 

Asked first for his reaction to events at Clapham Common during the Sarah Everard vigil Dominic Raab said: “Very distressing. It’s a harrowing case, I think anyone - obviously women feel particularly nervous, anxious about it and their safety - but I think anyone who’s got, as I do, a sister, wife, mother, would be concerned about this. We’ve all got a stake in making our streets safer for women and anyone that’s vulnerable. I think the issue around the vigils is a really tricky one for the police. We do need to stop people mixing because it saves lives because of the pandemic. On the other hand, we’ve got a proud tradition of peaceful protest and it’s a question of balance.”

Put to him that police may be asking what they were supposed to do with the legislation around gatherings amid a vigil, Raab said: “I’m sympathetic to that argument. We have passed legislation and the reason we have passed it is to prevent more deaths from this appalling, vicious virus that we face. It’s temporary, they will be gone as soon as possible. We’ve got a proud tradition of free peaceful protest and I think the police are in a very difficult position.”

Asked if police should they have upheld the law and dispersed people he said: “We passed the law, but the operational implementation of it is for the police, and quite rightly, when there’s a question about the way it’s been handled, the Met itself has instigated review and Her Majesty’s independent Inspectorate of Constabulary will also look at whether there’s lessons to be learned, but I certainly agree with your basic premise that the police are in a very difficult position here. And I also think, notwithstanding the sensitivities around this awful case, we must still maintain the restrictions on social mixing, because otherwise we risk [it] taking hold and more lives being lost and we don’t want that.”

He added: “The public and the police do not want politicians interfering in individual questions about how the law is enforced. Of course though, we reflect on the lessons learnt and even for that, both the Met and the independent  Inspectorate of Constabulary responsible for that, and there has always been that line between legislators who pass the law and then the police and how it’s investigated and enforced. I think that’s not just right, it's healthy. We have mechanisms in place to make sure we can have the accountability; any concerns can be properly looked at and it’s important to let those processes run.”

Speaking of processes in place for victims reporting crimes he said: “I feel frustrated, anxious, restless that we do better. I think it’s important to look at this responsibly, to break it down. It’s important to make women feel, and victims feel, more confident and comfortable in coming forward. At the very first step to a police officer in a police station, which is itself can be quite traumatic. I think we’ve made great progress, which is why you’ve got more of these kinds of cases being reported by victims. The second thing is to make them feel confident to give the evidence in court. We’ve introduced measures to improve that. Ultimately one of the reasons we’ve got this challenge with securing successful prosecutions is because in many of these cases getting hold of the evidence that can secure a conviction is inherently difficult. You’ve got to use all the forensic skills, all the tech that we can, in order to increase the conviction rate, that is for sure.”

On the halting of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine rollout in countries including Germany, France and Italy and asked if it’s a political move by EU countries he said: “I can’t judge the motivation, all I can tell you is the facts and the facts are there is no evidence that we’ve seen, and our regulator has seen, that there’s a greater risk of negative side effects, for example the blood clots that people have talked about, from those that have taken the vaccine from those that haven’t. The regulator here has been very clear, this is a safe vaccine, people should take it, it’s saving lives. The EU regulator has also said there’s no case, no evidence that would justify suspending the rollout of the vaccine and that’s also backed up by the World Health Organisation. So, our message to everyone in this country is the vaccine is safe, it’s saving lives, please take it.”

Asked if he’s speaking to EU colleagues about the suspension he said: “I’m speaking to my EU colleagues and colleagues around the world all the time on all of these issues. The reality is they’ve got various different processes that apply for the regulation and the checks, we respect that, different countries do things differently. But we’re clear, we’ve got the very highest standards in this country and when we’ve looked at the evidence and our regulator has, this vaccine is safe and it’s right that countries follow their own jurisdictions. But like many other countries we’ve looked at this very carefully and we’ve looked at all the evidence, even in terms of concerns that crop up in other countries, we process it, look at it very carefully, this vaccine is safe.”

He added: “We clearly disagree with the specific judgement call on suspending the vaccine. But we respect their right to make their own decision.”

Asked about the £2.6m media briefing room unveiling, at a time when the government is being criticised for not having enough money for nurses, he said: “Of course the money spent on that is a fraction of the NHS budget, let alone the payroll bill and on nurses that you’ll know the 1% is going to the independent review body.

“It is important that the Prime Minister, as we reach out to the world, grasp the opportunities, can communicate very clearly with the British public and I think making sure we’ve got a fit for purpose communications centre and that that can house the journalists is important. And it’s a fraction of what we’re spending on the NHS and no one should be under any illusions about that.” 

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