Government to launch post-Brexit industrial strategy in spring

The UK government is to launch a new industrial strategy aimed at helping the country thrive post-Brexit, and life sciences will be ‘centre stage’ when it is unveiled in the spring.

Until now, Theresa May’s government has been vague about when its promised industrial strategy might emerge, but now health minister Lord Prior has told pharmaphorum that a vision for key industries will be laid out in March.

“The industrial strategy that will be published in March is in the context of Brexit, so that is our response to Brexit,” Lord Prior told pharmaphorum.

“It isn’t going to be just life sciences – it is going to be aerospace, automotive, the City and creative industries as well, but we want to make sure that life sciences is going to be up there centre stage.”

DH officials were keen to stress that the deadline of March was not fixed. The government strategy is meant to coincide with the next Budget – however as the government is finding planning for Brexit an overwhelmingly complex task, this may well get pushed back.

The new masterplan will be led by Greg Clark, secretary of state at the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.

The government is keen to maximise the opportunities arising from Brexit, however many in pharma and other industries fear that it will have more negative consequences than upsides.

Nevertheless, GSK and others have continued to show confidence in the UK’s life science sector with new investments confirmed since the Brexit vote on 23 June.

Brushing aside the pessimism, Lord Prior said there were several major pharma industry investment announcements expected in the coming months, which he said would consolidate confidence in the UK as a base for life sciences.

MPs back Brexit timetable

Lord Prior is the minister at the Department of Health in charge of NHS productivity, relations with the pharmaceutical industry and Brexit.

He was speaking to pharmaphorum yesterday afternoon, just as MPs in the Commons were voting decisively to back the government in its plans to trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017.

The government won a majority backing of448 votes to 75 after a motion from the opposition Labour party was accepted. It says the government should publish a plan and it was “Parliament’s responsibility to properly scrutinise the government”.

Once Article 50 is triggered, the UK has no more than two years to negotiate its exit from the EU. This is a ticking clock that is causing huge concern across industries such as pharma and biotech, who want certainty about post-Brexit regulations, trade and freedom of movement in people – vital pillars to the life science sector.

Lord Prior refused to be drawn on any guarantees about what kind of Brexit the government would hope to negotiate. However after implying earlier this year that her government would pursue a ‘Hard Brexit’, Theresa May and her cabinet now appear to be leaning towards a ‘Soft Brexit’.  This could entail reaching an agreement similar to Switzerland or Norway, which are both members of the European single market.

The UK government wants to agree a ‘bespoke’ deal for the UK, but EU negotiators have stressed that the UK can’t ‘have its cake and eat it’, by demanding access to the single market and but also have curbs on immigration.

Asked if he would back a ‘Soft Brexit’, Lord Prior said he believed that being able to attract the best talent from around the world was crucial to the country’s future.

“This is not just me saying it, it is Philip Hammond, Boris Johnson, David Davis saying that as well. Attracting the best people in the world, that for me is absolutely fundamental to a competitive life sciences industry.”

He also reiterated his belief that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) would almost certainly have to leave London, but refused to say which arrangement for future UK medicines regulation he favoured.

One of the most ambitious suggestions is that the UK’s medicines regulator the MHRA could align itself with the US and the FDA, the world’s leading regulator. However UK pharmaceutical leaders suggest this is unlikely, and currently favour as close alignment with the EMA as possible.

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