In a recent Written Ministerial Statement, David Lidington, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster and minister for the cabinet office has claimed that “While the Government believes that leaving the EU with a deal is the best outcome, leaving without a deal remains the legal default at the end of the extension period on 31 October 2019.”
Within the statement David makes it clear that the Government is doing all that they can to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, in terms of signing a number of trade continuity agreements, reaching an agreement in principle with South Korea on the terms of a continuity trade agreement and guaranteeing the supply of critical ‘category 1’ goods, including medicines, medical products, veterinary medicines and chemicals.
The Department of Health and Social Care is also starting the process of setting up an express freight contingency arrangement to support continuity of supply of medicines and medical products. This will be an urgent contingency measure for products requiring urgent delivery, within a 24-48 hour timeframe, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
This express freight contingency arrangement forms part of the Department’s “multi-layered approach”, which includes rerouting medical supplies from the short strait crossings, extra warehouse space, stockpiling, buffer stocks, clarifying regulatory requirements, supporting traders to have all necessary paperwork in place at the border, and strengthening the processes used to deal with shortages to ensure that patients have uninterrupted access to medicines and medical products if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, expressed concerns, saying that “It is good to see the government planning for the worst - but we are running out of time to eliminate the disruption of a no deal that could put patients at risk.
“Around three quarters of our medicines and over half our clinical consumables come from, or via, the European Union and so it is vital that the supply chain continues to work. Medicines also go from the UK to Europe.
"If there is no deal or agreement of any kind with the EU, patients in the UK and Europe would be placed at risk. To make sure they are protected we need an agreement with a transition period.
"We do recognise the enormous effort that has gone into making these plans as robust as possible. But the truth is that much of this is outside of the control of the NHS and our members; that is why we continue to advocate a negotiated deal which will provide maximum protection for patients.”
In the coming months, the Government will make further announcements on its preparations for a possible no-deal exit on 31 October, including on trade continuity agreements to limit disruption to our trade with third countries after we leave the EU.