After a fiercely contested competition the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is set to relocate to Amsterdam from London while the European Banking Agency will move to Paris. Both EU agencies were located in the UK capital but had to move because of Brexit.
Addressing MEPs on Tuesday, British shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, said the pledge to stay in the EMA will form part of Labour’s ‘consistent approach’ to Brexit which “seek to maintain membership of (or equivalent relationships with) European organisations which offer benefits to the UK.”
In a speech in the European parliament , Ashworth highlighted the “string of evidence about the importance for UK patients of close cooperation with Europe on medicine regulation and said that staying in the EMA was preferable “because it serves our national interests and the interests of the EU27.”
He cautioned that the UK being absent from the EMA would mean that the average lag of submission of new medicine marketing authorisations after the UK leaves the EU could be two to three months. And he warned that some products may never be marketed in the UK.
Ashworth said his political party would also prioritise the negotiation of continued access to existing EU reciprocal healthcare schemes, or the creation of comparable alternatives, and seek to stay part of the Horizon 2020 research funding programme and its successor.
The Labour party would “welcome” research staff to the UK and “protect” the country’s National Health Service (NHS) workforce by guaranteeing the rights and status of existing EEA (EU and the three EFTA countries of Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) nationals.
Ashworth’s comments come after EU health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis told this website he was concerned about the potential implications of the UK leaving the EU for continued cross border cooperation in the health sector.
Ashworth warned, “Given the scale of trade between the UK and the EU on medicines, but perhaps more fundamentally given disease knows no borders it would be great folly to dismiss the huge benefits that the UK and the EU 27 have gained from our close relationship over the past forty years.”
“Labour will not sign off on a Brexit deal that turns the clock back on medical innovation or sees patients in the UK having to wait longer to get access to life-changing treatments. It is a red line for me and it is red line for the Labour Party” British shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth
“It is utterly unacceptable to put patient safety at risk because of lack of certainty about medicine regulation post Brexit. Slow progress on reaching a deal could mean delays accessing potentially life-saving treatments, harming patient and public health in both the UK and EU.”
He added, “Labour will not sign off on a Brexit deal that turns the clock back on medical innovation or sees patients in the UK having to wait longer to get access to life-changing treatments. It is a red line for me and it is red line for the Labour Party.”
“That is why I can confirm that a Labour government would seek to continue to be a part of the European Medicines Agency and adhere to the EU regulatory framework on the authorisation and conduct of clinical trials, because it serves our national interests, the interests of the EU27 and most importantly, it serves patients’ interests.”
“We would not put ideological red lines before the nation’s health. We are leaving the EU, but that does not mean we should not remain partners in those areas that are in our shared interests.”
“While it may not be easy we have to find a way to allow the UK to stay in the EMA after Brexit. This is something we should be able to aspire to” Rory Palmer MEP
On the EU workforce employed across the UK health sector, he said, “Labour will offer EU nationals certainty. We would start on the principles of fair rules, the reasonable management of migration and recognition of the contribution nationals from across the world play in our public services.”
“That means both guaranteeing the rights and status of existing EEA nationals but also ensuring our NHS and care sector can recruit the staff needed to care for our sick and elderly now and in the future.”
Ashworth’s comments were warmly welcomed by UK Labour MEP Rory Palmer who told this website that the shadow minister had set the “right tone” for the Brexit negotiations.
Palmer said, “While it may not be easy we have to find a way to allow the UK to stay in the EMA after Brexit. This is something we should be able to aspire to.”
“The Tories have been woefully inconsistent on this but the importance of this speech today is that it sets the right tone for the negotiations and sends out the signal that the UK values its collaboration in the health sector with the EU.”
“It is right for Jonathan Ashworth to talk about staying in the EMA, which is UK Labour policy, and also about protecting the rights of EU nationals working in the NHS in the UK.
“It is significant that he has come to Brussels to talk about these issues here and not in Westminster,” added Palmer.