“As a result of recent tough decisions we’ve taken, Britain had the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe … and now has the fastest growing economy in the G7… That is Conservative government in action…” - Boris Johnson, Prime Minister's Questions, 15 December 2021


Boris fibbing as usual. Britain’s vaccination roll-out now lags western Europe by a mile while we have the poorest economic output record of the big industrial nations since Covid.


At the final Prime Minister’s Questions of 2021, Boris Johnson had to defend his personal record, in the aftermath of a major Tory backbench revolt that had seen 100 Conservative MPs vote against their own party over new Covid restrictions.

As usual, Johnson resorted to making bombastic claims regarding his government’s achievements. In particular, he reiterated assertions that the UK had a superior vaccination record to Europe but also a better economic record to the G7 industrial nations. Are these claims correct?

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There is no contesting that the UK was quickest off the mark with its vaccination rollout at the start of 2021, though this followed the scandal of higher-than-necessary Covid deaths resulting from the premature easing of the lockdown in spring 2020. Meanwhile, the EU's early vaccination strategy was beset with problems, including procurement issues that saw the Commission take AstraZeneca to court over its alleged failure to deliver contracted vaccine doses.

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However, since then the EU countries have acquired enormous supplies of Covid vaccines and deployed them successfully. As a result, the level of population vaccination in many EU countries is higher than in the UK – a fact ignored by h Prime Minister in his PMQ claims.

There are various ways of measuring the degree of vaccination levels in a given population. One simple method is to record the physical number of jags administered per unit of the population. Call this a “volume” measure. On this basis, the UK does well because it administered large numbers of jags early in 2021.

However, a more relevant measure is the proportion of the total population who have been vaccinated to a sufficient degree to reduce the virulence of the pandemic (“fully vaccinated”). On this measure, the UK does far less well. By mid-December 2021, 68.6% of people in the UK had been “fully vaccinated” – a figure actually lower than all the other western European countries. This the PM ignored in his statement.


Why has Britain’s vaccination rate slowed compared to its European neighbours? One reason is that EU countries moved faster when it came to deciding if they should vaccinate people aged between 12 and 18. The UK only approved one dose of the Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds in September. By that point, Denmark and Spain had already vaccinated most of their child population with at least one dose.

Tougher restrictions on non-vaccinated people in European countries may also have driven up their jag rates. Malta, which has one of the highest population vaccination rates, requires non-jagged people to wear face masks outdoors. In France, the vaccination rate doubled following the introduction of its mandatory “health pass” in July. But the UK shied away from the idea of compulsory Covid passports till December – a move opposed by 100 Tory backbenchers, in defiance of the PM.

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What of Johnson’s economic claims? According to a report published by the House of Commons library on 13 December 2021, UK GDP in the third quarter of 2021 was 2.1% lower than the pre-pandemic level. This is a worse record than all other G7 economies. German GDP is 1.1% lower and France only 0.1 lower. For the Eurozone as a whole, GDP is down 0.2% while in the US output stands at 1.4% higher than pre-pandemic levels.

These figures represent absolute results for the level of output (and hence standard of living). There is no doubt that Britain’s economy has contracted faster and lost more real output compared to the rest of the G7. Note: because the economic contraction in the UK has been so severe – partly as a result of Brexit – any recovery from this uniquely low base appears (statistically) to be greater than elsewhere. This is the basis of Johnson’s misleading claim about UK economic growth.

The latest OECD think tank data (1 December) predicts that UK economic growth in 2021 will be 6.9%. This compares to 5.2% in the Eurozone and 5.6% in the US. Presumably, it is this forecast to which the PM is referring. However, he presented this OECD prediction as an actual fact rather than a forecast.

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More importantly, he failed to point out that the UK statistical rebound is from a much lower base than the other G7 nations – and still leaves the UK lagging in real terms. Johnson also ignored the fact that the same OECD forecasts into 2023 show UK growth falling sharply behind every G7 economy except Japan.

We should also point out that the OECD forecast was made before the onset of the Omicron variant of Covid. The latest evidence indicates there has been a sharp slowdown in the UK economy since October. Output in the UK rose only 0.1% between September and October. This fell short of the 0.4% forecast by economists and was a sharp decline from the 0.6% expansion the previous month.


Boris Johnson is not known for his familiarity with the facts. As in many other areas, the Tory government has a record of promising much initially (railways, levelling up, vaccinations, the economy) only to disappoint later. Johnson’s bluster at PMQs cannot hide a poor track record in delivery, both on vaccination rates and the economy.


One out of 10 for deliberately editing the actuality.