Thank you for contacting me about a potential new international treaty for pandemic preparedness.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been one of the greatest challenges to the established international order since the Second World War; a global threat that has required global solutions borne out of global cooperation. I pay tribute to people and nations across the world in confronting such a threat. International collaboration was immensely heartening to witness in the darkest of times.
As in the late 1940s, where, to avert a repeat of the cataclysm of total war, world leaders united to establish the multilateral system we have today, I think it is reasonably fair to argue that a similar effort is required on the part of world leaders to strengthen preparedness for potential future pandemics.
As such, I welcome the suggestion of the former Prime Minister, writing with other world leaders in 2021, that the international community should commit to producing a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response. I understand that such a treaty would aim to foster greatly enhanced cooperation in order to better protect the UK from the health, social and economic impacts of pandemics.
Discussions are ongoing at the World Health Organisation to this end. The UK Government wants to reach agreement on its priority areas such as improving transparency, timely data sharing and supporting equitable access to vaccines and treatments. I appreciate your concerns about this; however, the Government will not support any treaty which compromises the UK's sovereignty. There is nothing in the proposed treaty that would impact our ability to take decisions about national lockdowns or associated measures at the national level. I would certainly not support one which gave the WHO powers to make such decisions, which are rightly the preserve of national governments.
Once adopted, international treaties only become binding in the UK when ratified by Parliament in accordance with our constitutional process. No international treaty can by itself change UK law. If changes to the law are necessary, then a treaty could not be ratified until domestic legislation, agreed by Parliament, was put in place. As I have said, I will not support any treaty that is not in our interest or which compromises the UK's sovereignty.
I would not support the UK's withdrawal from the WHO.
More detailed points that you might find informative follow in the Q and A below.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP
Pandemic Treaty Q&A
What is a Pandemic Treaty?
- A pandemic treaty is an instrument which would ensure the world is better prepared for future pandemics by learning from our experiences of Covid-19 and ensuring plans to address future health threats are in place.
- A treaty is a written international agreement between two or more countries, or with international organisations and governed by international law.
- The process for developing this new pandemic instrument will be led by the countries which are members of the World Health Organization (WHO), including the UK, not by WHO. Member states negotiate content, and the UK decides whether to become a party to the treaty. The current target date for agreeing the text of the new instrument is at the World Health Assembly in May 2024.
- Once adopted, the instrument would only become binding on the UK if and when the UK agrees to be bound by the treaty (the process of ratification) in accordance with its constitutional process.
- A treaty is formed under international law but cannot change UK law. If changes to UK law were considered necessary or appropriate then the UK would not ratify the treaty until domestic legislation, agreed by Parliament, were in place.
What is the point of a Pandemic Treaty?
- Covid-19 has demonstrated that no-one is safe until we are all safe, and that effective global cooperation is needed to better protect the UK and other countries around the world from the health, social and economic impacts of pandemics.
- We believe a pandemic treaty is the only model that can ensure commitments are made at the highest levels of government to respond quickly and collaboratively to future pandemic threats.
- Thinking is at an early stage, but we are hoping to see the treaty focus on UK priority areas, where cross-border collaboration and accountability is most vital. This includes improving transparency, timely data sharing and supporting equitable access to vaccines and treatments.
Who is leading the development of the treaty?
- WHO member states. The WHO has a unique role in global health as it can provide infrastructure to support the negotiation of treaties and facilitate cooperation amongst countries, as well as coordinate global health bodies, however WHO does not have the power to enforce compliance with treaties.
- The pandemic instrument will be negotiated by all WHO member states, including the UK, and this will ensure that it is built with consensus. The WHO provides an institutional home for a pandemic treaty, but it is member states who will determine and negotiate and agree the content of a treaty.
- On 29 November – 1 December 2021, the WHO’s World Health Assembly (WHA) met in a special session to discuss the proposal and the way forward. In this session, the WHA agreed to establish an Intergovernmental Negotiating Body to draft and negotiate “a WHO convention, agreement, or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.”
Will this treaty open doors for the WHO to take more powers in the future?
- Commitments made within any treaty would be designed and negotiated by member states and member states cannot be obliged to agree to any instrument or treaty against its will. The UK would not sign up to any treaty that compromises the UK’s sovereignty.
- The Government always carefully considers whether domestic legislation will be required to implement the UK’s international obligations when negotiating a treaty. Not every treaty requires implementing legislation. But, before any changes to national legislation were implemented, any domestic legislation would go through the usual Parliamentary process. The UK cannot ratify the treaty until the domestic measures were in place to enable it to comply.
Why does the UK want to sign up to a pandemic instrument?
- The UK Government supports a new pandemic instrument to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response to protect lives, the economy and future generations from future pandemics, in the UK and globally.
- We see a pandemic instrument as an essential way to achieve real change in the way the world prepares and respond to pandemics and other health threats. The UK Government would like to see long-term improvements to global health security and believes a pandemic instrument is the best way to do this.
- The UK would like to see an instrument that can help the world to better prevent, prepare for, detect and respond to future infectious disease outbreaks of pandemic potential at national, regional and global level. The UK sees the pandemic instrument as a way to advance this and promote greater collective global action and accountability
Will a treaty give the WHO powers to enforce lockdowns in sovereign states?
- There is nothing in the proposed pandemic instrument which would impact our ability to take decisions about national lockdowns or other measures of this nature at the national level. The UK would not support an instrument that gave the WHO powers to make decisions about these issues.
- On the contrary, the Pandemic Treaty is designed to help us strengthen our ability to prevent, detect and respond to future health threats without having to resort to restrictions like we have seen during this pandemic.
Who will the UK Government consult when developing the instrument?
- An effective pandemic instrument will require a whole-of-society approach and we are engaging with a broad range of stakeholders as the process to develop the instrument continues.