British pharma, biotech reiterate ‘Remain’ support

United Kingdom and European Union Flag painted on grunge wall

Leaders from the UK’s pharmaceutical and biotech companies have joined a group of 1,200 business executives to reiterate their support for staying within the European Union, just one day before the country goes to the polls.

While ‘Remain’ campaigners enjoyed a comfortable lead in the polls for months, the last few weeks have seen support for ‘Leave’ grow, and on the eve of the hugely important referendum, the result is too close to call.

Large, multi-national companies have, in the main, been unwavering in their support of remaining in the EU, and say a Brexit would damage the British economy, impacting trade and jobs, as well as causing massive uncertainty.

But UK biotech firms, mostly made up of small-to-medium-sized enterprises, also support continued EU membership, saying an ‘Out’ decision would go against the need for international trade and scientific collaboration beyond borders.

However the Leave campaign, led by Conservative MPs Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, has convinced many voters that the UK would be better outside the EU. They say the UK can prosper once freed of Brussels’ bureaucracy and low economic growth, plus allow the UK to limit immigration from within the EU.

The UK trade groups the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and the BioIndustry Association declared their support for continued EU membership in May.

In a letter to The Times newspaper, the 1,200 business leaders, including GlaxoSmithKline’s chief executive Sir Andrew Witty and AstraZeneca’s Pascal Soriot restated their belief in a Britain stronger in Europe.

“Our reasons are straightforward: businesses and their employees benefit massively from being able to trade inside the world’s largest single market without barriers.

“As business people, we are always looking to the future – and a future inside the European Union is where we see more opportunities for investment, growth and new jobs.”

The letter states that leaving the EU would mean having to re-establish terms of trade from scratch with the EU’s market of 500 million consumers, and said this would hurt not only exporters but the hundreds of thousands of small and medium firms who do business with them.

No companies in the pharma or biotech sector have come out in favour of Brexit; the Leave campaign claims 300 business leaders are in favour of the move, including JCB’s chairman Lord Bamford and Sir James Dyson, the entrepreneur behind the Dyson vacuum company.

In the world of medical and regulatory science, a Brexit would mean the European Medicines Agency (EMA) would have to leave its current location in London. Pharma and academic researchers say this would be a major blow to the UK’s status as a leader in medical science, and would impact the UK’s own medicines regulator, the MHRA, which relies on EMA work for much of its income.

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Andrew McConaghie

22 June, 2016