Brexit and Pharmaceuticals: Access to Medicine

A sector that doesn’t raise its voice in public (for fear of annoying ministers) but which is very worried about the consequences of Brexit, is the pharmaceutical industry. This is yet another industry which, behind the scenes, is asking for a “bespoke” agreement for its sector with a “deep and comprehensive” trade agreement and even a pharmaceutical protocol.

The pharmaceutical industry is highly integrated across Europe. It is regulated under jointly agreed EU law, because having separate, divergent, national regulations and testing and enforcement systems would be far less effective – and more expensive. It is vital not just for our health, but for our economy: some €28bn worth of medicine is traded between UK and the rest of the EU every year.

The industry’s European Federation (EFPIA) has summarised the key messages for its member companies and associations to put across in their communications on Brexit. Like so many other industries, they are reluctant to raise their heads above the parapet – but are now starting to show deep frustration at how the government is handling things.

On regulation, the industry wants “maximum alignment” of laws. It wants to “ensure that goods due to be moved between the UK and the EU are not held up either at border checks, in warehouses or manufacturing and/or subject to extensive retesting requirements” as any of this “would lead to a severe disruption of supply chains.” This makes It imperative to avoid regulatory divergence because “any divergence over time…. would also cause further disruption”.

This means, of course, that they want Britain to at least stay in the single market, the system of agreeing and having common rules for products placed on the market.

Similarly, they want Britain to stay in the Unified Patent Court – the integrated system for protecting and enforcing patents across Europe.

They want “continued participation” in EU research programmes, so vital in this field. They even argue for “continued participation” in European Investment Bank and the European Investment Fund.

And they want “an immigration system that facilitates ease of movement for students, researchers and other staff” and retains intra-company transfers.

They also address the issue of the EU technical agencies that Theresa May has said she wants Britain to leave. In the medical field, they point out that that would be a disaster.

Within the European Medicines Agency (EMA), British labs handle one fifth of the centralised procedures for authorising medicines and two-fifths of the decentralised procedures. Tearing the UK and EU system asunder will “significantly disrupt” the system for ensuring the safety and supervision of new medicine, not to mention the economic loss to Britain of losing the EMA.

The European Centre for Disease Control provides EU countries with a joint database on 52 communicable diseases and facilities to coordinate action to prevent epidemics. Why on earth leave such a useful body?

The EU Falsified Medicines Directive coordinates efforts to fight growing problem of fake or imitation black market medicines trafficked into Europe. Again, what is the benefit of leaving?

All these are valid points, but pinning the sector’s hopes on a bespoke agreement that will effectively nullify Brexit for this sector alone is illusory. The only way to lessen the numerous and serious problems that Brexit entails is for Britain to stay in the single market and customs union, and to remain in the technical agencies. And the only way to avoid the problems completely is to stop Brexit.

The pharmaceuticals sector should not go it alone, but join with other sectors that will be negatively affected by Brexit to make common cause.


  1. Brexit Britain promises to be an unhealthier place. Environmental and food quality controls will succumb to the imperative for trade deals, while rising food prices will enforce a higher fat diet upon many families. The overworked NHS will see a further exodus of EU27 staff and continue to be starved of cash despite increased demand from an elderly demographic. Privatisation will strip remaining profitable NHS elements and leave the rest as a bare bones service.

    Leaving the EU medical agencies will hinder research, drug development and new supplies, while the Euratom exit will disrupt radiological diagnosis and treatment, leading to intolerable distress and premature deaths. Energy cost inflation from the collapse of sterling will exacerbate the traditional winter cull of the vulnerable, as will rapidly increasing street homelessness … but the Brexit project, corrosive in every facet of life, must be devoutly followed come hell or high water. Why?

  2. The more we find out the more horrendous it all seems. Do you think the present govt really do want to crash out or as it seems to me they really have lost control of events?

    • Certainly the latter I feel. They are between a rock and a hard place and most understand that there is no silver lining to Brexit but they have to carry on regardless. This is suicide and we have to stop it, but how?

  3. Jenny asks if the Tories have lost control. They lost control when Cameron stupidly promised a referendum. That tore open the fracture lines in their party and opened the can of worms that the Brexiteers slithered out of.
    Now, they have been persuaded that any going back is a denial of democracy – neither party dares risking that accusation. Frankly neither is big enough to see the truth in David Davis’s observation in 2012 that “a democracy that cannot change its mind ceases to be a democracy”.
    The British public have been suckers for lies in the press since forever – being taken in by the lies in the campaign is not surprising. Ian Duncan Smith called that “robust debate” – says it all doesn’t it?
    I am just surprised and disappointed the Labour Party do not actively promote the excellent work Richard does in this blog. If they did, the country might stand a chance of coming to its senses.

  4. Richard reports with common sense, something lacking in this government, and once again I cannot understand why the BBC, ITV etc. do not mention on any of the news programs similar reports which tell of all the down sides of Brexit. Is it because their reporters don’t want to? If the public knew the full effects of leaving I’m sure it would bring about a change of heart.

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