The leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg MP has been forced to apologise for comparing a doctor who warned of the deaths which could follow a no-deal Brexit to the disgraced anti-vaxxer Andrew Wakefield.
The row began on monday when David Nicholl, a consultant neurologist who was asked to advise the government on medicine shortages in the event of a no-deal Brexit, called hardcore Brexiteer Mr Rees-Mogg’s radio show, and asked the MP “What level of mortality rate are you willing to accept in the light of a no-deal Brexit?”
Mr Rees-Mogg retorted by claiming plans were in place to fly medicines in, and calling Mr Nicholl, ‘deeply irresponsible’ for ‘trying to spread fear across the country’. But went further later in that day, telling the House of Commons. “I'm afraid it seems to me that Dr David Nicholl is as irresponsible as Dr Wakefield in threatening that people will die because we leave the European Union - what level of irresponsibility was that?’
The remarks caused outrage across the political spectrum, and prompted the Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies to write to Mr Rees-Mogg, which she then posted on Twitter ‘to express my sincere disappointment and show my support for doctors across the country, particularly @djnicholl.’ Mr Nicholl himself challenged Mr Rees-Mogg to repeat the remarks outside of the House of Commons where he would not be protected by parliamentary privilege, and thus could be sued for libel.
Finally on Thursday night, Mr Rees-Mogg issued a statement in which he said ‘I apologise to Dr Nicholl for the comparison with Dr Wakefield. 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.’
Andrew Wakefield first hit the headlines when he published research in the Lancet linking the MMR jab to autism, and causing the vaccination rate to plummet from 90% to 79%. However investigations revealed evidence of dishonesty and unethical practice, and he was struck off in 2010. However his ‘findings’ are still defended by some conspiracy theorists and populist politicians such as Donald Trump.