I’ve had a huge email correspondence worried about developments at World Health Organisation (WHO). Given what we’ve been through with the pandemic and the fact that WHO has proven to be a deeply flawed institution in obeisance to China, I quite understand the suspicions of my correspondents.
Nevertheless no WHO agreement can impose changes to UK law. Parliamentary sovereignty ensures that any changes must be approved by MPs. Currently none of the concrete proposals that are on the table would compromise UK sovereignty, nor is there yet any legal mechanism by which the WHO could compel its members to do anything. The Government has been clear: if any such proposals were on the table, we wouldn’t accept them.
All the suggested amendments to the International Health Regulations – the only proposals which have a realistic chance of being implemented in the immediate future – have been tabled by the United States and are sensible and uncontroversial. They address issues surrounding information sharing and surveillance that arose at the beginning of the pandemic and seek to remedy errors that were made.
The Prime Minister and other world leaders made a statement in March last year on a proposal for an international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response. All this is still further down the line but there is no plan for this new treaty to facilitate ‘global lockdowns.’ So, in my estimate there is no immediate cause for alarm. I see nothing sinister in “enhancing international co-operation to improve alert systems; data-sharing; research; local, regional and global production and distribution of medical and public health counter-measures such as vaccines, medicines, diagnostics and personal protective equipment.”
Preventing and mitigating future pandemics will require a transparent and co-ordinated approach together with other WHO member states on basic issues like information sharing and PPE procurement. What we must avoid however, is anything that limits our ability to respond to future pandemics independently.
None of this is to say that there have not been developments that give rise to proper concern. A WHO white paper titled ‘Strengthening the Global Architecture for Health Emergency Preparedness, Response and Resilience,’ proposes the establishment of a Global Health Emergency Council which would have a responsibility to “foster compliance with and adherence to global health norms and policies.” We must see- off this sort of interference and be vigilant in ensuring that any new treaty goes no further than proportionate and sensible measures.
I hope this goes some way to allaying the concerns of scores of people who have emailed me.
Nevertheless, it is never wise to be ‘too reassured’. Nor can we take too much comfort from the protection of our parliamentary sovereignty when lawyers come demanding compliance with ‘binding international obligations’. My correspondents are quite right to be permanently on the lookout.