UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, delivered a speech on Friday 2 March in which she set out her vision for the UK’s future economic partnership with the European Union. May acknowledged that the UK will lose some access to the single market, and that the UK will not be able to lower regulatory standards on industrial goods after Brexit, meaning that binding commitments will have to be made to maintain EU regulatory standards. Significantly, she confirmed that the UK wanted to remain part of key agencies including the European Medicines Agency, saying that “associate membership of these agencies is the only way to meet our objective of ensuring that these products only need to undergo one series of approvals, in one country”. In addition, EU legal decisions will continue to affect the UK after Brexit. Overall, May’s speech seemed to indicate that the Government wants the softest possible Brexit that is consistent with leaving the single market and customs union, but that if forced by the EU to choose between a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit, it will have to go for hard.
Reactions from the UK BioIndustry Association (BIA) and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) to the announcement that the UK aims to retain membership of the European Medicines Agency have been cautiously optimistic, with BIA CEO Steve Bates saying: “It’s good to see the PM articulating the practical dynamics of our industry of the future, when she said in her speech that ‘membership of the European Medicines Agency would mean investment in new innovative medicines continuing in the UK, and it would mean these medicines getting to patients faster as firms prioritise larger markets when they start the lengthy process of seeking authorisations.'” However, Charles Grant, Director of the Centre for European Reform, has responded to the speech by confidently asserting that the EU will reject what May is proposing, and that despite her claims to the contrary, “the EU will see her demands on goods, such as mutual recognition in some areas, and on services like finance and media, as cherry-picking.”