The Never-Ending Brexit?

Published on: 
Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology-10-02-2019, Volume 43, Issue 10
Pages: 6

With no plausibly approvable deal on the table in the UK government at the moment, it is possible that Brexit could be extended even further.

Editor’s Note: This article was published in Pharmaceutical Technology Europe’s October 2019 print issue.

As the United Kingdom fast approaches the deadline for its departure from Europe Union (for the second time), it is possible that Brexit may be delayed even further. The UK government remains at loggerheads, with furore over the recent prorogation, a court ruling stating that the suspension was unlawful, no clear indication a plausible deal will be achievable, and a bill prohibiting a ‘no-deal’ scenario. Another Brexit extension is becoming a possibility.

However, even if the UK government requests another extension, there is no guarantee that the other countries of the European Union would agree. So, where does this uncertain situation leave the pharma industry both within the UK and across Europe?

Significant changes already

There have already been significant changes as a result of Brexit that have impacted the pharma industry. The relocation of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) from London to Amsterdam was completed in March 2019 and resulted in the agency restricting activities and focusing on core tasks while adjusting to the move and subsequent loss of staff. 

Companies have been stockpiling and working on contingency planning to help ensure the supply of medicines post-Brexit is minimally affected. Some pharma companies have stopped investments into the UK altogether, waiting until Brexit is finalized or there is at least some clarity on the situation, and others have opened facilities in countries that will remain in the EU to avoid business disruptions.

Parliamentary bodies and industry associations both in the UK and EU have been releasing guidance information to help pharma companies prepare for Brexit. These types of documents have been particularly prominent for the potential of a ‘no-deal’ scenario, which is considered to be the ‘worst-case’ scenario for the pharma industry.


Operation Yellowhammer

In August 2019, the UK government’s official report (Operation Yellowhammer) on the probable outcomes of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit was leaked (1), which highlighted potential disruption to medicines supply that could last up to six months. The Channel port disruptions are underlined as a particular issue of the supply of medicines and medical products, which is an issue that cannot always be overcome by stockpiling as a result of limited shelf-life (2).

Although the government has pledged funding to help with medicines supply in the event of a ‘no-deal’ scenario, a recent report from the National Audit Office stressed that there is a significant amount left to do so that a steady flow of medicines is assured (3).

Continuous ‘no-deal’ preparations challenging

The full extent to which the pharma industry will be affected by Brexit is yet to be determined and will very much be influenced by any potential deal that may (or may not) be agreed upon by officials in both the UK and EU. And as UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has firmly stated that his political policy will see the UK leaving Europe on 31 October 2019 with or without a deal, regardless of the Benn Act (a recently passed law that prohibits ‘no-deal’), the waters surrounding Brexit seem to be muddier than ever before.

For the pharma industry, however, continuous preparations for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit is a challenging prospect, as stated by the Chief Executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, Mike Thompson, earlier this year (4). “Leaving the EU with a deal in place remains the best way to minimize any potential disruption to medicines supplies,” Thompson said.


1. The Guardian, “No-Deal Brexit: Key Points of Operation Yellowhammer Report,”, 18 August 2019.
2. BBC, “Brexit: What does Yellowhammer Say About No-Deal Impact?”, 20 September 2019.
3. NAO, “Exiting the EU: Supplying the Health and Social Care Sectors,” 27 September 2019.
4. ABPI, “ABPI Response to Government ‘No Deal’ Guidance,”, 26 June 2019. 

Article Details

Pharmaceutical Technology Europe
Vol. 31, No. 10
October 2019
Page: 6


When referring to this article, please cite it as F. Thomas, “The Never-Ending Brexit?” Pharmaceutical Technology Europe 31 (10) 2019.