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‘Common Rulebook’ Brexit plans include medicines – but face backlash

Government compromises could be opposed from both sides

brexit

The UK government's new plans for Brexit, now including the ‘common rulebook’ idea, have been welcomed as a step in the right direction by the pharma and biotech sectors.

The government published its long-awaited Brexit white paper on Thursday, and the 104-page document sets out in detail the proposed future relationship with the EU – however it looks likely to face a backlash in Westminster this week.

After two years of insisting that the UK was heading for a broadly ‘Hard Brexit’, the prime minister has now switched to backing a much softer exit from the EU – partly due to growing warnings from business.

The new stance emerged from the Chequers summit just over a week ago, and was meant to unite her government – however resignations of key Brexiteers David Davis and Boris Johnson shortly afterwards showed that deep divisions remain.

For the pharma and biotech industries, the common rulebook is welcome, as it comes closer to a deal that could realistically allow the UK to maintain participation in the European Medicines Agency – a key demand of the UK life sciences sector.

The white paper confirms the UK’s willingness to pay for this participation in the EMA, and to respect the remit of the European Court of Justice (CJEU). It also concedes that the UK would no longer have ‘voting rights’ in the EMA, but should “still able to conduct technical work, including acting as a ‘leading authority’ for the assessment of medicines, and participating in other activities like ongoing safety monitoring and the incoming clinical trials framework".

This approach reflects the spirit of compromise which runs throughout the white paper – but these watered down proposals have already been opposed by Conservative party Brexiteers and also ‘Remain’ MPs in the Conservative party and opposition Labour party.

Many of them are for once united in agreeing that it could represent ‘the worst of both worlds’ (external link) - although while Brexiteers are contemplating a leadership challenge on May to allow a hard Brexit, Remainers now believe the time is right for a 'People's Vote' on Brexit, which could halt the process altogether.

This opposition is significant as the Trade and Customs Bill, a key plank of the government’s Brexit legislation, returns to the House of Commons today – and opponents on both sides could vote down the bill, once again derailing the government’s plans as the Brexit date grows ever nearer.

For its part, UK pharma association the ABPI issued a statement on the plans on Friday, picking up five key points for medicines in the white paper, which looked broadly encouraging for the sector.

However the ABPI, like other sector representatives bodies, is now hardened by experience of the Brexit process. It warned that the UK government position was subject to parliamentary scrutiny – and would also be seen as just as the starting point for negotiation by the EU27.

Article by
Andrew McConaghie

16th July 2018

From: Healthcare

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