Government & the WHO Quietly Shake Hands

by State Brief


If you were expected to agree to an employment contract, would you not want to read it before signing? When you go to a restaurant, do you look at the menu before ordering your food or just eat whatever you happen to be given by the waiter? Or when buying a house or a car, would you not first want to view it and find out the details before committing to the purchase? In these situations, it is highly unlikely that you would simply trust that everything will turn out fine, with no essential information to inform your decision-making. Yet this is exactly what it appears the Government would like you to do with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its opaque International Health Regulations Amendments (IHRs).

In fact, it’s worse than that. In addition to being given virtually no information about the WHO’s IHR amendments, the British public will not get a say in whether or not our nation is signed up to the changed agreements. Regardless of your opinion on the matter, the Government and the WHO will decide for you. This is despite increasing numbers of credible voices, including Members of Parliament, expressing grave concerns about what this could mean for our individual freedom, our health choices, our economy, and for our hard-won British democracy.

It is therefore incredibly important that we all become aware of the issues around this debate and then consider expressing any resulting concerns that we may have. Most people would take this approach to any other situation which could dramatically affect the way they live their life and impact on their family and future. 

The IHRs are Being Hidden From Public Scrutiny

You would be forgiven for not knowing about the WHO’s IHR amendments, because there is scant coverage of what they are within the mainstream media and therefore very little public discussion about them. This is unacceptable, given the impact which they could have on our lives.

In summary, the WHO is currently developing two international legal instruments intended to increase significantly its authority in managing public health emergencies, including pandemics:

  1. Amendments to the 2005 International Health Regulations (the IHR amendments)
  2. A pandemic treaty (the WHO Pandemic Agreement)

The WHO International Health Regulations group is set to agree on the amendments package to present to the World Health Assembly in May at the 77th World Health Assembly. The last draft of that document made available by the WHO was over two years ago, in February 2022 and as summarised in this comprehensive UsForThem briefing paper (full paper here), which gives a feel for the scale and severity of the issues, particularly in terms of their implications for human rights, free speech, and national decision making autonomy.

Furthermore, there is strong evidence that the process has not been lawfully adhered to. The WHO failed to publish the revised package of IHR amendments back in January 2024, as required under Article 55 of the IHR. This means that the WHO cannot now lawfully present the IHR for a vote within the timeframes required under international law. The May deadline for the vote must therefore be extended. You would expect that something as important as this would be raised in Parliament and widely reported in the mainstream press, but it has not been.

Negotiations on the IHR are continuing with the ninth and final round of negotiations between countries from March 18th until March 28th. But like the hypothetical house or car you would be forced to purchase without first seeing it, Parliament and the British public are not being given full details of the IHR amendments. They are being hidden from public and Parliamentary scrutiny. It is therefore impossible to know the full impact that the IHRs could have on our nation, on our democracy, and on our autonomous decision-making. However, what little we do know is alarming enough to have caused MPs and other credible voices to have raised grave concerns. 

Many of those asking questions and demanding transparency on the WHO’s IHRs are highly respected politicians. Last year, Esther McVey MP, along with five other Conservative MPs, wrote a letter to ministers to warn of an “ambition evident…for the WHO to transition from an advisory organisation to a controlling international authority.” The letter was also signed by the Tory MPs Sir John Redwood, David Davis, Philip Davies, Sir Christopher Chope, and Danny Kruger. The group raised serious concerns about the proposed amendments to the IHRs, warning that the WHO’s advice would be “binding” and would introduce a new requirement for countries to recognise the WHO as the global authority on public health measures.

If passed in May 2024, the change would mean the WHO could enforce border closures, quarantine measures, and vaccine passports on all member countries, including the UK. It would do this in response to the threat of a pandemic, or the emergence of one, or some other public health crisis which the WHO would identify and define. Additionally, the draft of the treaty itself would commit member states to significant spending commitments for pandemic preparedness. Surely this is worth some level of public and parliamentary debate?

Calls for greater transparency and scrutiny of the IHRs were ramped up again in March of this year. A group of Conservative MPs has warned that the UK risks “signing away” its powers to “unelected” WHO bosses, complaining about the proposed amendments in a letter to Alicia Kearns, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Pandemic Response and Recovery, have argued the treaty risks “undermining U.K. sovereignty”. The letter was signed by the former Brexit Minister and Chief Negotiator Lord Frost. Other signatories included MPs Philip Davies, Philip Hollobone, and Sir Christopher Chope.

Voicing her concerns again on March 30th 2024, Esther McVey, now a Minister, has written in the Telegraphand stated, “We will never surrender powers to the World Health Organisation” and that, “No one is going to tell us how to take care of our citizens, or force us to impose any particular national response in future crises.” In this article she has claimed: “Our red lines in the negotiations include not agreeing to anything that cedes sovereignty, protecting our ability to make all of our own domestic decisions on national public health measures, including whether to introduce any lockdowns or restrictions, require vaccinations and mask wearing, and decisions on travel into and out of the country.”

As one commentator pointed out on social media, although as a statement of intent this is reassuring from Esther McVey, it does not lessen the imperative for public scrutiny of these agreements. Indeed, given the secretive and anti-democratic manner in which the negotiations have been overseen by the WHO, and the significant implications the agreement could have on so many aspects of our lives, we have a right to see every detail before anything is agreed.

An Urgent Matter for Public Debate

This matter should be widely reported in the mainstream media, discussed in Parliament, and debated by the British public. The decision in May will potentially have an enormous impact on everyone in the country, on our economy, and on everyone’s health. It is extraordinary to witness an almost total denial of transparency in the process of developing the IHR Amendments which aspire to profoundly affect the health and rights of the British public.

In response to criticism, the WHO’s Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has said that the WHO has not sought to hide or obscure anything. However, although the interim drafts of the Pandemic Treaty have been published during the negotiation period, most recently in 2024, no interim drafts of the IHR Amendments have been published. This is despite repeated calls for transparency from parliamentarians and the public during the negotiation period. Again, if this was anything else which we were signing up to, buying or agreeing to, we would expect to see the details of it first. 

Regardless of the legitimate concerns being raised, WHO officials are still pushing hard for the treaty and IHR amendments to be adopted in May 2024 despite no realistic prospect for any national-level scrutiny. Dr. Ghebreyesus has even warned nations that “everyone will have to give something, or no one will get anything.” Emphasising his insistence that individual nations must sign up to the IHR amendments, he has stated: “It’s mission-critical for humanity that you do. We cannot allow the cycle of panic and neglect to repeat.”

Along with the WHO refusing to disclose the full details of the amendments, our own Government appears to be being equally secretive. Lord Frost told the Telegraphthat he was concerned the Government was “not really being that open about what it is doing” in treaty negotiations. He added: “The other concern is about the practical impact this treaty could have on our domestic laws.” Although a UN convention doesn’t itself have direct legal force in the UK, international commitments have a very similar effect. As Lord Frost pointed out:

As we discovered with the Rwanda plan, the doctrine of many Government lawyers seems to be that international commitments are in practice just as legally binding as our own laws…In practice, if another crisis comes, there will be lots of pressure to act within the WHO framework, and Government lawyers will tell us we must.

Time to Speak up

Surely one of the great lessons from the Covid pandemic was that our collective silence on important issues only makes matters worse in the long run. For example, it seems hard to find anyone who now says that they believe that lockdowns have not resulted in avoidable economic and societal harms. Children have suffered learning loss and mental illness and there is a record number of people on NHS waiting lists. The architects of the lockdowns are largely in agreement that they were necessary, but the British public are the ones now suffering from this heavy-handed policy decision. Many people say that they disagreed with lockdowns at the time but were reluctant to speak out. They often say that they were worried what other people might think of them if they voiced their concerns. But it is possible that at least some of the harms could have been avoided if more people had spoken out at the time.

It is true that being an ‘anti-lockdowner’ was stigmatised during the pandemic, with social media companies censoring dissenting voices and the media vilifying critics of this policy. At the time of writing, there is currently no pejorative applied to those who are asking reasonable questions about the WHO’s IHR amendments. So there should be no significant barrier to any of us speaking out. Social media companies do not appear to be censoring people who are asking for more information about the IHRs and the mainstream media have yet to condemn those who do so. 

However, the WHO has indicated that it plans to form a proposed information control complex, in which WHO officials will coordinate censorship campaigns against WHO-identified “disinformation.” This is something which should worry us all. Critics of lockdowns, the mass vaccination of the population, masking, or any other pandemic response, could once again be silenced and vilified. As we witnessed before, scientific debate, as well as members of the public asking reasonable questions, could be regarded as off-limits and socially unacceptable, with those who dare to voice their concerns being publicly shamed for doing so. 

It would be unforgivable for the public not to be given more clarity on this important issue. We must see the full detail of what we are being signed up to. The time to speak up about it is now, rather than after the event. If there is nothing for the Government and the WHO to hide, they should disclose this information. The British public has a right to know and we should be given an opportunity to either accept or reject what is being proposed behind closed doors.


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