In a previous blog posting we reported that on 6 September the UK life sciences industry presented its initial report on how to maintain and grow the UK’s life sciences sector post-Brexit to the UK EU life sciences steering committee. This committee is tasked with identifying the key priorities for the UK life sciences sector as the UK negotiates its relationship with the EU post-Brexit and is helping to shape policy for the UK government to pursue.In the report the UK healthcare sector has expressed itself strongly in favor of a so-called “soft Brexit” pleading for continued access to the single market and participation in the EU regulatory system. This last point has been particularly highlighted as of great importance to the industry as “for the UK, the resource, time and expertise required to build and legislate for a stand-alone regulatory model would be significant – and not in the interests of UK patients or industry.”

However, newspaper reports increasingly hint at a “hard Brexit”; a message reinforced at the Tory party conference on 2 October where senior politicians including Prime Minister Theresa May and Brexit Secretary David Davis indicated the need for the UK to control immigration. Whether controlling immigration implies loss of access to the single market is therefore a key question. The EU institutions and EU Member states have indicated on various occasions that the EU’s four basic freedoms of movement — for goods, services, capital and people — are inseparable and not up for negotiation by the UK. However, Secretary Davis has called on EU leaders “to think carefully before erecting barriers to trade” suggesting that the UK may pursue a curb to immigration while preserving single market access and free trade to the highest extent possible.

It is too early to draw any conclusions on the implications of a possible “hard Brexit” for the UK life sciences industry. However, it is a scenario that increasingly needs consideration because achieving a modus operandi close to the status quo may prove to be more challenging outside a single market scenario. The UK life sciences industry report gives hints about alternative options but much more consideration will be required by all stakeholders in the UK, EU and even beyond if no single market were at the horizon.

Indeed, developments are being closely followed across the globe, particularly by organisations with a vested interest in the UK. In a Scrip article, “Japan issues strong warning over Brexit” dated 14 September 2016, Hideo Norikoshi and Chia-Feng Lu of Baker&McKenzie’s Tokyo office comment on the immediate and long term implications of Brexit for Japanese healthcare companies many of which are using the UK as a gateway to Europe. The article can be accessed by subscribed readers using this link.