ABHI Brexit Update: It has all gone a bit Groundhog
It has all gone a bit Groundhog has it not?
This time last week I was in Brussels with our sister industry associations, seeing if we could not garner a bit more support for our position on regulatory alignment. We have already signed joint letters with MedTech Europe and with our friends at SNITEM in Paris, and we expect similar to be coming from Madrid, Rome and Berlin in the coming weeks.
Whilst I was doing my bit for HM Diplomatic Service, the press hounds here were salivating. It is a wonder Theresa May survived the weekend reading last week’s news wires. This was going to be the pivotal moment, May would be slain and Johnson and Rees-Mogg would depart the Tory Conference next month and ride triumphantly into Downing Street. Well, in the end, it was the week that wasn’t. Nothing happened. Again. OK, the Brexiteers did come out with something about a solution for the Irish border, but to be honest it did not seem to make much sense to me. It sounded a little bit like the technological solution that has already been rejected. Twice. Who wants to be in No10 right now anyway, and Jacob even slapped down his troops for baying for Prime Ministerial blood. It is the policy not the person he claimed and, so, our Captain Scarlet of a PM survives. Again. See what I mean about Groundhog.
A welcome reprieve also, of sorts, for the PM from Brussels, where, perhaps in anticipation of the serious business starting, the mood seems to be improving in favour of a mutually positive outcome from negotiations. There is also, apparently, some sort of “Save Theresa” campaign in motion. Either she has more friends in the EU27 than we thought, or else EC negotiators relish the prospect of spending time with hard-line Brexiteers about as much as I would.
Robin Walker, our man in DExEU, was certainly upbeat when we saw him at this week’s EU Relationship Group meeting. This is the quarterly gathering of Ministers, Brexit related officials, our friends in the biopharma sector and ourselves, for the latest official line. Walker spoke encouragingly about a marked improvement in the tone and pace of talks in recent weeks, along with evidence that some of our messages are landing in other member states. He remains confident that the Withdrawal Agreement will, in fact, be agreed, and that we are on course to agree a future partnership in time for March. Indeed he was sanguine about the prospect that the assumed deadline of October’s EU Summit being missed, as he believes there is still time to do the necessary. As I did here last week, he also made reference to next Thursday’s informal meeting of EU leaders in Salzburg. I reckon the late news might be worth staying up for.
A big part of the discussion was on supply chain contingencies in the event of no deal, and I know this is a major area of concern for all of you. The letter from the Secretary of State in August requested 6 weeks stockpiling or air freight capacity by pharma companies, and you have all been asking me why we have not had similar. Plans are underway and our colleagues in DHSC are working diligently, drafting in resource from Deloitte and NHS Supply Chain. They also recognise that the stockholding capacity that would be necessary to fully protect supplies if we were to crash out simply does not exist. An analysis of where the gaps are, and where the use of centrally held stock might help to plug these, is being undertaken as I write. They will be writing to you again in the next few weeks and, yes, they will be asking you questions but not, I am promised, too many and they will be in user friendly format.
The other issue which, I am afraid is not going to get any better immediately, is the fact that you are beginning to get multiple requests from NHS Trusts asking you about your own contingency plans. It is probably inevitable, NHS Trusts have been set up as autonomous organisations, and, as such, their Boards will want to know that they are being protected from the prevailing winds. There are some obvious, straightforward solutions, but, unchecked, the volume will quickly get silly. We are working with our partners in the operational NHS to seek a sensible solution. More to follow on this next week.