Jacob Rees-Mogg forced to apologise for comparing NHS doctor to anti-vaccine campaigner
Jacob Rees-Mogg has been forced into a humiliating apology for comparing an NHS doctor to a disgraced anti-vaccine campaigner.
The Commons leader provoked outrage after he said NHS consultant David Nicholl, who contributed to the Government's own no-deal contigency plans, was like disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield.
Dr Nicholl had clashed with Mr Rees-Mogg after he called him during his LBC radio show and asked "what level of patient mortality" he would be willing to accept in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The NHS consultant, who had written the medical section of the Government's Operation Yellowhammer report into the potential effects of leaving the EU without an agreement, also raised concern about the UK's ability to stockpile certain medicines.
But Mr Rees-Mogg hit back, telling MPs on Thursday he believed the comments were as irresponsible as those made by Andrew Wakefield, who was struck off for triggering a bogus scare by linking the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism.
Speaking in the Commons, the Conservative MP said: “I am afraid it seems to me that Dr David Nicholl is as irresponsible as Dr Wakefield."
After heckling by opposition MPs he added: “I will repeat: as irresponsible as Dr Wakefield, in threatening that people will die because we leave the European Union.
“What level of irresponsibility was that?”
But the comparison drew fury from Professor Dame Sally Davies, the government's chief medical officer, who wrote to Mr Rees-Mogg on Thursday branding his comments "frankly unacceptable".
Meanwhile, Dr Nicholl threatened to sue the Tory minister if he repeated the comments outside the Commons, where his remarks are protected by parliamentary privilege.
In a statement released on Thursday evening, Mr Rees-Mogg apologised for the remarks.
"I apologise to Dr Nicholl for the comparison with Dr Wakefield," he said.
“I have the utmost respect for all of the country’s hardworking medical professionals and the work they do in caring for the people of this country.
“The government is working closely with the NHS, industry and distributors to help ensure the supply of medicine and medical products remains uninterrupted once we leave the EU on 31 October, whatever the circumstances.”
Health Secretary Mattt Hancock said he was "glad Jacob had apologised".
He added: "It's vital clinicians can provide expert advice. I defend to the hilt the right of clinicians and civil servants to provide advice without fear or favour."
A Number 10 source said the Prime Minister did not endorse Mr Rees-Mogg's view.