Northern Ireland news

Belfast whistleblower doctor demands Jacob Rees-Mogg apologise in House of Commons for Wakefield slur

Dr David Nicholl is a highly-regarded neurologist. Picture from BMA

A Belfast-born doctor likened to disgraced medic Andrew Wakefield by Jacob Rees-Mogg has called on the high-profile MP to repeat his apology in the House of Commons.

Dr David Nicholl had stood on College Green outside the Houses of Parliament with a loud hailer demanding the Leader of the Commons repeat his comments in a forum where he would not be protected from libel action by parliamentary privilege.

The Conservative MP had criticised Dr Nicholl after he expressed concern over medical contingencies for a no-deal Brexit during a radio phone-in.

He called in to LBC to ask Mr Rees-Mogg what mortality rate he would accept if the UK were to leave the EU without a deal.

Mr Rees-Mogg later referred to the exchange in the House of Commons, telling MPs: "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?"

Among those outraged by the comments was Professor Dame Sally Davies, the government's own chief medical officer, who wrote to Mr Rees-Mogg on Thursday telling him they were "frankly unacceptable".

"The fraudulent and incorrect measles campaign launched by this individual (Andrew Wakefield, who inaccurately linked the MMR vaccine with autism) resulted in the re-emergence of measles in this country," she said.

In a statement, Mr Rees-Mogg apologised for the remarks, saying: "I have the utmost respect for all of the country's hard-working 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 Matt Hancock said he was "glad Jacob had apologised... It's vital clinicians can provide expert advice".

Accepting his apology, the Birmingham-based consultant neurologist added that he wanted it to be officially made in the House of Commons, which would ensure it is part of the official Hansard record.

Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Wollaston backed his call, saying that Mr Rees-Mogg should also "take the trouble to read the compelling underlying evidence of serious harm from no deal" that led to Dr Nicholl becoming a whistleblower about the supply of drugs in the event of a no-deal.

Dr Nicholl is a highly-regarded neurologist whose research work in Parkinson's Disease included the identification of one of its commonest genetic forms.

He has been outspoken about becoming politically engaged after seeing "senseless killing, based on ignorance and narrow mindedness that happened throughout the Troubles".

The physician said "the reason why I left Northern Ireland in 1984 (was) due to the narrow minded bigotry that was the `norm' in Northern Ireland then", adding that "now in England, we are seeing rising intolerance, rascism and bigotry".

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