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Triple defeat puts May’s Brexit deal up against the wall

Prospects of a no-deal Brexit seems to loom ever larger

A trio of legislative defeats for the government yesterday has left UK ministers increasingly embattled as they try to drum up support for Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

The opposition used an obscure Parliamentary procedure to force the government to reveal the full legal advice it had received on the Brexit deal, in order to give MPs a fuller picture than was provided in an earlier summary document. Embarrassingly for the government, they not only won the right to see the full advice, but also a motion holding that the government was in contempt of parliament for withholding it in the first place.

Arguably more damaging to May’s Brexit plan, however, is that MPs voted to have a direct say in what happens if it is rejected in Parliament on 11 December, leaving ministers’ hands increasingly tied as the deadline for the UK’s departure from the EU looms.

The prospects of a no-deal exit – which is viewed with horror by the biopharma industry – seems to loom ever larger, as the opposition is far from united in what would follow if May’s deal is rejected, as seems increasingly likely with the ink barely dry on yet another ministerial resignation (science and universities minister Sam Gyimah) in the last few days.

May’s draft agreement has been slammed by Brexiteers and pro-EU groups alike, both claiming that it leaves the UK neither in nor out of the EU, and with less sovereignty than now.

When it comes to a ‘Plan B’, Labour’s leadership is still pushing for a general election, but there is a growing chorus of voices insisting that they only way forward now is a new referendum – or ‘people’s vote’ – that will include three options: May’s deal, no deal, or no Brexit. Also in the wings are murmurs of a push to persuade parliament to seek a Norway-style arrangement with the EU.

Whatever the outcome, hopes of an end to the uncertainty facing industry seem to be getting ever fainter amidst the daily clamour of opposing views and competing interests. Industry groups representing the biopharma industry – the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and BioIndustry Association (BIA) – initially gave a cautious welcome May’s draft withdrawal agreement, but can do little more now than observe as the latest crisis rumbles on.

BIA chief executive Steve Bates has made it clear that a no-deal must be avoided, saying in a recent blog post that “a cliff-edge Brexit will negatively impact patients, public health and the life sciences sector.”

Steve Bates

Steve Bates

He also said that while the withdrawal agreement “will help to protect medicines supply to patients, members still have major concerns about how medicines regulation will work in practice during the transition.”

That continuing sense of uncertainty is mirrored in the latest quarterly survey by GlobalData which found that negative sentiment among pharma professionals about the impact of Brexit on the UK healthcare sector has increased over the last three months. At last count, 59% now have a negative sentiment about Brexit’s impact on the UK healthcare sector, compared to only 42% who expressed the same opinion in June 2018.

The survey suggested – unsurprisingly – that less clarity about the future of Brexit is behind that increase, and there now seems little chance of that situation changing in the coming weeks unless May can somehow lever her deal through the Commons.

The debates in parliament continue this week, with hours of parliamentary time devoted to discussing the security and immigration elements of the withdrawal agreement today after what promises to be another brutal PM questions at midday.

Article by
Phil Taylor

5th December 2018

From: Healthcare

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