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Brexit nears as Conservatives sweep to victory in election

British pharma association 'looks forward to working with the new Government'

Brexit flag

Boris Johnson has won a decisive victory in the general election with a sizeable majority that means the UK is now almost certain to withdraw from the EU on 31 January.

Boris JohnsonThe Prime Minister (pictured left) looks set to have a majority of about 78 seats with a few results still to come in, the highest for a Conservative government since 1987 under Margaret Thatcher and the highest share of the vote since 1978 at 44%.

It was a dismal night for Labour right from the exit polls, which predicted the result fairly accurately and had Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell all-but conceding defeat before a single result had been announced, saying “we just couldn’t get through the Brexit argument”.

Labour’s decision to back a second referendum didn’t go down well with Leave-voting constituents in its Northern and Midlands heartlands, which swung firmly to the Tories. Meanwhile the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats were also punished, losing several seats including that of leader Jo Swinson in Scotland.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) ended the night with a massive majority north of the border which puts a bid for a second independence referendum firmly on the cards.

Johnson reiterated many of the pledges made for the NHS in his acceptance speech after retaining his Uxbridge constituency, repeating a number of claims that drew criticism during the campaign.

That included the hiring of 50,000 nurses (actually 31,000 with 18,000 encouraged to stay in the NHS) and the construction of 40 hospitals (in fact funding is only available for six, with £100m in ‘seed funding’ earmarked for the remaining 34).

The Conservatives also promised another £34bn in extra funding per year for the NHS by 2024, 6,000 extra doctors for GP surgeries, free hospital parking measures for some patients and staff and a cross-party deal to fix the current crisis in social care.

There’s little doubt that this election was all about Brexit however, and attention is already turning to the consequence of the voting.

The Conservative majority means at the very least that industry will get some clarity on the way forward in the near-term – namely the withdrawal agreement and an exit on 31 January – and the pound strengthened as the scale of the victory came in.

That said, the even more contentious issue of the UK’s future relationship with the EU has already started to loom large. There is still the matter of securing a trade deal – with a current deadline of the end of next year - and leaders of the 27 member states are meeting in Brussels today to discuss the forthcoming negotiations.

Johnson insists a trade deal can be done in 11 months, but EU negotiator Michel Barnier has already poured water on that notion, calling it “unrealistic” earlier this week.

Nevertheless, with such a thumping majority Johnson may feel he no longer needs to pander to the will of the core of hard Brexiteers on whom he and former PM Theresa May have relied heavily in the house since the 2016 referendum.

That has left people speculating his future stance, and the possibility that he may revert to a softer Brexit approach. Recall just before the 2016 vote he publicly backed staying in the single market, which would solve the Irish border problem at a stroke.

On the other hand, some think that his repeated assertion that the government would not entertain any extension to the transition period means that exiting on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms or a sketchy free trade agreement is more likely.

Neither of those outcomes is desired by the pharma industry and other sectors, which wrote to the government in October to express their concern that Johnson’s Brexit deal had removed some regulatory alignment provisions that would be damaging to their businesses.

Ahead of the election, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) welcomed the Conservatives’ pledge to increase public research spending to meet a target of 2.4% of GDP being spent on R&D.

It also liked the manifesto commitment to setting up an Innovative Medicines Fund, continuing the collaboration with the EU on scientific schemes like Horizon Europe, and making the UK “the leading global hub for life sciences.”Mike Thompson

In response to the Conservative victory, ABPI chief executive Mike Thompson (pictured right) said:

“The Prime Minister was elected with a manifesto which included strong commitments to improve the availability of new medicines to NHS patients, the uptake of vaccines, and to place life sciences at the centre of an innovation based economy.

“The ABPI supports these ambitions and we look forward to working with our members to bring new investment to the UK to further strengthen our world-leading science base.

“The Prime Minister’s Brexit deal includes an important commitment to exploring close cooperation on medicine regulation. Achieving this will be important in prioritising patients and public health as well as the future of the UK life sciences sector.”

Article by
Phil Taylor

13th December 2019

From: Healthcare

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