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Brexit deal defeated again, crucial no-deal vote awaits

UK pharma urges no-deal to be ruled out

Theresa May’s Brexit deal with the EU was heavily defeated in a House of Commons vote for a second time last night, with MPs voting against it with a majority of 149.

This appears to be the death knoll for May’s Brexit deal, with a hardline Brexiteer group of Conservative MPs unmoved by her last minute clarifications to the contested Irish backstop question.

This leaves the UK in uncharted waters, with the country set to leave the EU in just 16 days, but with currently no deal and therefore no transition period. However, MPs are being given a free vote today on whether or not to rule out this no-deal Brexit, which economists and business leaders say would be a disaster for the UK.

Joining these calls for a no-deal Brexit to be taken off the table is the UK pharma industry. Many of the biggest pharma companies have already spent millions in preparing for such a scenario, including investing in stockpiling medicines, but say it should be avoided at all costs.

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ABPI chief executive Mike Thompson

Mike Thompson, chief executive of the UK pharma industry association the ABPI, said: “Pharmaceutical companies have done everything in their power to prepare for a ‘no deal’ Brexit. This includes increasing stocks of medicines, changing and adding new supply routes and duplicating manufacturing processes here and in Europe.

"Despite these efforts, we have always said that in a ‘no deal’ scenario we could face the very real possibility of disruption to the supply of some medicines.
"With just days remaining we need a solution which avoids a 'no deal' Brexit and the potential harm it could cause."

Today will see the first of a series of parliamentary motions put before MPs, the first being whether or not they want to rule out a no-deal departure. If this vote is carried, the House will then consider whether it wants to extend article 50 and delay the Brexit process.

The government has promised that its Conservative MPs will have a free vote on no deal, and as sentiment currently, stands, it looks likely that a vote to block no-deal will be carried.

However the prime minister has stressed that this would represent only a temporary block on a no deal exit, and it would remain a possibility in a future scenario. If MPs were to vote against ruling out no deal, it will become official government policy.

The other key question, the possibility of delaying Brexit until after 29 March, is also far from straightforward. That’s because the EU has to agree to this extension, and its chief negotiator Michel Barnier has made it clear he cannot grant an extension if it isn’t clear what the UK wants from Brexit.

The UK parliament and government would have to spell out that it would seek to modify the existing deal on the table (although this would have to be limited), or to hold a new general election or second referendum to break the political impasse in Westminster.

Brexiteer groups in parliament would like to request an extension of the Article 50 to 23 May, which is a hard deadline before the European parliament elections get underway. However the EU is understood to favour a much long extension to deadline (if one can be agreed), stretching out to over a year.

That means the vote today on avoiding a no-deal Brexit will be crucial – but whatever happens the confusion and uncertainty around Brexit isn’t going away anytime soon.

This appears to be having an impact on pharma investment in the UK, with Japanese company Shionogi announcing this week that it plans to relocate its European headquarters from London to Amsterdam.

Article by
Andrew McConaghie

13th March 2019

From: Regulatory

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