Brexit Passes

January 27, 2020
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The European Union will include one less member on February 1st. The Withdrawal Agreement Bill completed its passage through Parliament on January 22, setting January 31st as the UK’s departure date from the EU, and potentially wrapping up one part of the three-year quagmire that is Brexit. However, even with an extended transition period, it is still possible the UK could exit the EU without a deal in place.

It’s been three years since the UK held a public referendum on whether or not to remain in the European Union. Nearly seventy-five percent of eligible voters turned out for that June 2016 vote, resulting in a 52% to 48% decision to leave the EU. Nothing has come close to that level of clarity since. Delays in the exit date and disagreement about the provisions for leaving have resulted in the lack of both a clear path and a definite exit date. The uncertainty has been trying for citizens of the UK and European nations alike.

The uncertainty has also been difficult for UK biopharma. A lack of clarity on the post-Brexit parameters of such necessities as attracting and retaining talent, transporting goods, and setting prices have not only cost the industry potential contracts for work on new drugs from European countries. It has also resulted in the loss of recognition of the UK as a center of EU biopharma through the European Medicines Agency headquarters move from London to the Netherlands.

The approval of the Withdrawal Agreement in the Parliament sets January 31 as the date for the UK to leave the EU. However, all rules, regulations, tariffs, taxes, etc. in place with the EU will remain in place through the end of 2020. Agreements on each and every detail of doing business with the EU while not a member nation must be reached before 2021. Once again, the future remains uncertain and the biopharma industry finds itself in the same unsettled state as before Thursday’s vote.

Attention now shifts to the process of working out deals on the myriad aspects of trade between the UK and EU by mid-2020 in order to give EU member nations time to debate the proposed terms on the agreements necessary for a smooth transition. Meetings are said to begin in February, leaving months to accomplish this essential work. With little time to get deals in all areas, some are calling for agreements to be reached by sector. Others are looking at a worst-case wherein agreements in key areas such as security and transfer of goods are at least in hand.

If no agreements are reached by the end of 2020, the nagging constant No-Deal Brexit could be the result. Neither the EU nor the UK wanted to Brexit to occur without a plan in place. For 2020 to end without a plan in place will mean UK will be left to trade with EU member nations on the same footing as any other non-member. They also could be left without the ability to attract and retain the talent they require for their research. Potential troubles with security, and the likelihood of jammed channel crossings, constitute additional areas of concern for UK pharma.

The biopharma industry has a lot at stake. A spokesperson from the Bioindustry Association said, “It is clear that 2020 will be the year when the UK begins to shape a new way of engaging in global trade. The agreements to be negotiated will form the basis of the operating environment for years to come and it’s crucial we get deals that enable our life sciences sector to thrive.”

Paradoxically, even with the January 31st exit date and an end to all agreements with the EU set for the end of 2020, a No-Deal Brexit may be likelier than ever.

Published on: BioSpace

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