Pharma leaders add pressure to government's Brexit talks with warning of "nightmare scenario"

Courtney Goldsmith
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A hard Brexit would be an issue for the sector (Source: Getty)

Leading pharmaceutical industry figures heaped pressure on the government by warning of a "nightmare scenario" for the sector if Brexit negotiations do not move forward.

At a public evidence session today for the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) committee, MPs examined the implications of Brexit on the pharmaceuticals industry.

Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), said a regulatory alignment with the EU would be critical and failure to agree mutual recognition could lead to a "nightmare scenario".

Read more: Ministers warned: No-deal Brexit would hit drugs, talent and trials

Pharma companies have already had to start making decisions around building new facilities or moving to alternative locations in the EU because of the lack of clarity on whether the UK is heading for a hard Brexit, Paul Fleming, technical director at the British Generic Manufacturers Association said.

“The fact that we haven’t had the time to plan ahead means companies are having to make these contingency conditions, which is costing them an enormous amount of money,” Thompson said.

While industry figures stressed there was not one simple answer, with different companies making different decisions, they agreed the most critical issue was the potential delay in sending and receiving medicines.

The UK imports 37m medicine packs from the EU each month, and it exports 45m packs to the EU per month, according to the ABPI.

"We need to have some decisions [from the government] so we can plan and ensure the continued supply of medicines to patients across Europe," Thomson said.

The warning came after Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) brought Brexit talks to a halt yesterday.

MEPs were shown a draft agreement that talked of "regulatory alignment" between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit, avoiding the need for a hard border, but the DUP rejected the proposal.

The pharma industry said they had cheered the news of a regulatory alignment.

Peter Ballard, managing director at Xiromed, said he "felt that if Northern Ireland was adopting that sort of system, it would necessarily apply to everyone else".

While the DUP’s interference caused a groan across the industry, Thomson said he was “encouraged”.

Rachel Reeves, chair of the Beis committee, said: “The Beis Committee heard today that pharmaceutical companies are already spending tens of millions of pounds to mitigate the uncertainty they are facing, moving jobs and investment overseas. Witnesses from across the pharmaceutical industry told us that divergence from the European Medicines Agency will bring costs that far outweigh any benefits, and could make the UK a less attractive place to invest and work.

"The government has so far provided reassuring words to the pharmaceutical industry on what it hopes to achieve in negotiations, it is now vital that they turn this into action to ensure that patients in the UK and EU do not lose access to vital medicines.”

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