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Threat of no-deal damaging life sciences, says UK biotech leader

Calls for better-informed debate among Conservative candidates

Brexit

As the contest to become the next Conservative leader and prime minister enters a decisive phase, the UK biotech sector has warned that continued threats of a no-deal exit are damaging the life sciences sector.

Last night saw the BBC host a live TV debate between the remaining five contenders, after former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab was eliminated from the race.

Raab was advocating not only a no-deal Brexit on 31 October if necessary, but also a suspension of Parliament in order to avoid MPs blocking such an exit from Europe.

While his willingness to bypass Parliament was seen as beyond the pale by most Conservative MPs and his leadership rivals, four of the five remaining candidates – including frontrunner Boris Johnson - say a no-deal exit must remain on the table.

This is despite repeated warnings from UK business of the dire consequences of a no-deal.

This morning saw Steve Bates, the chief executive of the UK BioIndustry Association (BIA) giving evidence to a Parliamentary committee, and repeating warnings about the short and long-term impacts of a no-deal Brexit, either on 31 October or at a later date.

Bates appeared before the cross-party Exiting the EU Committee alongside representatives from the Healthcare Distribution Association (HDA), which represents wholesalers, and the Chemicals Industry Association.

All three said their sectors would suffer from a no-deal Brexit, reiterating warnings made over the last three years.

Bates said he spent all his time promoting the UK life sciences sector, but was frank when asked by the committee if politicians ‘talking up’ a no-deal Brexit was damaging.

Steve Bates

Steve Bates

“If you have got a set of scales, on one side we have the Life Science Sector deal R&D tax credits, and a fantastic life science [environment in the UK],” he said.

“On the other side, we have the uncertainties around Brexit. Talk of no-deal adds another weight to that side of the scales - and is that the one that tips the investment decision against all that excellent work we’ve been doing for generations in UK life sciences, against the UK?”

While acknowledging it was a slow process, he said there were signs that the ongoing uncertainty was influencing sector investment plans for 2020 and beyond.

Bates also commented directly on the Conservative leadership race, suggesting that a more informed debate was needed about the risks of a no-deal exit.

“You have a number of candidates in the leadership election privy to information within government, you have some that aren’t, yet all are making promises around no deal...I don’t know if they are doing that with the best information.”

He said his plea was for more information to be put before all the leadership candidates, “but also industry, so that we can tell you what is expected of us and what we can do” as well as MPs, so that they could be better informed on what is ‘practicable’ in Brexit.

Calls for the UK medicines regulator the MHRA to remain closely aligned with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) were also reiterated.

The UK government has already had to increase its funding to the MHRA to plug a hole in its finances left by its removal from rapporteur work done for the EMA.

Both Bates and Martin Sawyer also acknowledged that there may be ‘corporate fatigue’ among some companies who have seen the UK’s Brexit deadline extended twice, and who may no longer take the no-deal threat seriously.

Sawyer also warned that warehouse capacity is much more scarce in October than in March (the original Brexit date), as industries ramp up preparations for the Christmas period.

Meanwhile, the FT reported yesterday that UK business leaders brought together to meet Boris Johnson indicated they didn’t seem sincere in his hardline stance of promising to leave the EU on 31 October - leaving the options still very much up in the air.

A fourth and fifth round of voting in the leadership contest will take place later today among Conservative MPs, to produce just two final contenders.

The final choice is then put to Conservative party members, who select their new leader on 22 July. This leaves just 100 days for the new prime minister to agree a Brexit deal, or otherwise face no-deal, or a potential general election or second referendum to break the deadlock.

Article by
Andrew McConaghie

19th June 2019

From: Regulatory

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