This briefing by Dr John Connolly of the University of the West of Scotland examines the implications of Brexit for the prevention and management of pandemics.
It assesses whether Brexit increases the risk of pandemics in the short-term and the longer-term challenges in this policy area once the UK leaves the European Union (EU).
It finds that health security arrangements, which ultimately have implications for human life, the issue has had very little prominence in the policy and public debate. The policy structures and processes of the negotiations have prevented health security issues being given the prominence they deserve. This is despite health protection and trade being inextricably linked (due to the trade of medicines, for instance). While the Political Declaration on the UK’s future relationship with the EU seeks more continuity over change when it comes to arrangements for health security governance but this is in no way guaranteed.
The assumptions upon which industry contingency plans are predicated would not be effective in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, and the UK is not ready for such an outcome. Even if ‘no deal’ isn’t the outcome, there remain uncertainties about the future relationship between the UK and the European Medicines Agency and the future supply of medicines, neither of which have been resolved at the time of writing.
The current distractions that Brexit poses to the work of agencies, including the European Medicines Agency, means that global health security risk prevention work (e.g. regarding anti- microbial resistance and the ‘One Health’ agenda) are being deprioritised. This poses risks for UK and EU health security.
In short, Brexit is hampering progress towards more effective global health security. EU health networks are already changing, as is UK’s engagement in EU policy affairs relating of life sciences, since the Brexit referendum. The UK has undoubtedly been a leader in shaping EU health security governance and pandemic planning, However, the fact that they have already helped to develop capacities in other member states means that the EU would cope without as much UK involvement in the future.
This briefing is part of an ongoing research project examining the implications of Brexit for the governance of crises in the UK, which is being conducted by Dr Andrew Judge at the University of Glasgow and Dr John Connolly at the University of the West of Scotland. It has been funded by a Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland Research Incentives Grant.
The views expressed in this briefing are those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of interviewees or Policy Scotland.