Richard North, 26/12/2016  
 


Traditionally in this long interregnum between Christmas and the New Year, the newspapers fill their space with retrospectives. This year, there is plenty for them to write about, so much so that Brexit will be struggling to compete.

Much of what will be written about Brexit over the next weeks will be reheated material that was scarcely worth reading first time around, and so little does the media have to offer that even vaguely original articles have so little merit that one struggles to read to the end of them. And we can certainly do without the "project fear" still on offer from the Independent.

Just occasionally, though, we see an article that is actually worth reading – even if one has to go to the New York Times for it.

This one is on the European Medicines Agency (EMA), currently based in London (office pictured) but very much at risk when Brexit goes ahead. Most pundits who have thought about the issue are resigned to the near certainly of the Agency relocating, adding to the already considerable complications of extracting ourselves from the maw of the EU.

The move, says the NYT has sent tremors through Britain's pharmaceutical industry and raised fears over public safety, with "worrying implications for Britain's vibrant and successful biotech and pharmaceuticals sector and Europe's public health".

Currently, cities such as Stockholm and Strasbourg are scrambling to host the Agency, while the uncertainty is having an adverse effect on staff retention and recruitment. The Agency's executive director, Guido Rasi, is "very worried" that relocating might mean losing up to half its personnel.

Since its inception two decades ago, the Agency has cleared for authorisation about 1,000 products. With a full workload of applications in the pipeline, the organisation is already close to the breaking point. If it loses more than 15 percent of its experts, the agency will probably not be able to maintain current output.

This is but one of many issues raised by the NYT relating to the Agency, issues which have been scarcely discussed by a UK media obsessed with trivia and unable to get past the basics. But it is issues such as the European Medicines Agency which are going to define the nuts and bolts of Brexit and which are going to absorb a huge amount of time and negotiating capital before they are resolved.

In an ideal world, the UK would be able to put the Agency on the table, and negotiate a new settlement which would keep it, and the Banking Agency, in London. For that to happen, though, would require a near-revolution in the way the EU operates, changing the rule book to a considerable degree.

With an intelligent approach to Brexit, that is a possibility. And even if the price is high, the price of exclusion would most certainly be higher. The EMA and the 40-plus decentralised agencies are a core part of the EU trading system and the cost of replicating UK systems would be prohibitive.

But it is not only the UK which would suffer. The complete withdrawal of the UK from the system would cause considerable disruption to all EEA members, as well as other states which rely on European systems.

The EU has enough problems without adding to them and this gives the UK a certain amount of leverage which could also give us an opportunity to redefine the way the EU works.

In that sense, the problems of Brexit don't have to be treated entirely as negatives. They are also opportunities, if we care to take them. This could be our year of opportunity.






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