As Parliament vote on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, Elliot Dunster, The ABPI's Head of External Affairs, summarises the pharmaceutical industry's progress on Brexit and the pressing need for certainty on the UK's future relationship with the EU.
Parliament and politicians have seemingly debated little else other than the implications of the UK leaving the EU since last year's referendum. And when they haven't been debating the implications, they've been discussing the process – everything from voting on the triggering of article 50 to the nature of transition arrangements.
But today sees the most significant process milestone yet, with the EU (Withdrawal) Bill being voted upon in the House of Commons. Ministers have said that the Bill is designed to provide 'certainty, continuity and control' – something which it's previous name, The 'Great Repeal Bill', didn't seem to quite capture. The UK's membership of the EU has provided much of the scientific, regulatory and trade infrastructure for the pharmaceutical industry and patients in the UK. And when medicines can take over a decade to research, develop and reach patients, delivering such certainty is crucial.
But the Withdrawal Bill alone cannot deliver this certainty. The Government know this, as we have seen from the position papers published over the past few weeks that securing agreement on key issues relating to science, regulation and goods on the market will be important for this future certainty for the industry in the UK.
The ABPI, alongside our colleagues at the BIA, have been supportive of the important references to medicines contained in the position papers on science and innovation and goods on the market. Our CEO, Mike Thompson, has emphasised that a 'pragmatic approach' that seeks practical solutions for continued cooperation in research, a smooth transition for the regulation of medicines, and cooperation on safety and monitoring processes, is welcome. Delivering this in the negotiations with the EU will give industry confidence that UK and Europe will continue to be one of the best places in the word for developing and delivering the very best breakthroughs in medicine.
The ABPI has been clear that the most important issue for pharmaceutical companies is the future UK/EU regulatory framework for medicines. Last week's position paper on science and innovation repeated that the UK Government is seeking to 'continue to work closely' with the EMA. The Health and Business Secretaries also stated this intention at the start of the summer in their open letter in the Financial Times. The Government clearly understand how important this is.
As the first 'divorce' stage of the negotiations with the EU continue, we're getting tighter to the deadline for securing this cooperation. With the new location of the EMA set to be decided in November, it is essential for patients in both the EU and the UK that the negotiations result in cooperation and alignment in the regulation of medicines. By doing so, patients and pharmaceutical companies in both the UK and EU will get the certainty they need.