Pharmaceutical industry representatives have applauded the decision to progress Brexit negotiations to the next phase, with the UK and EU having agreed the terms of the transition period.

The 21-month transitional period will run from March 29, 2019 to the end of 2020, during which time rights for EU citizens arriving in the UK will remain as per the status quo, as will those of UK citizens living in Europe.

During the period the UK will be allowed to negotiate new trade deals while remaining part of any EU trade deals already in place.

“The EU Council’s agreement to progress to future partnership talks and their approval of a transition period is welcome news,” said Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.

"Every month, our industry supplies 45 million packs of medicine to Europe and 37 million come back the other way. Subject to the final withdrawal agreement, our members now know they will have until December 2020 to do all they can to make sure that these medicines continue to get to patients.”

“The life sciences sector has repeatedly called for a transition period to enable companies to adapt to the significant challenges posed by a Brexit in March 2019,” said Steve Bates, chief executive of the BioIndustry Association. “We will now be working closely with government and industry stakeholders to understand the detail of the agreement and how it applies to our sector and medicines.”

However, Thompson also went on to note that the transition agreement states the UK will play a limited role in the European Medicines Agency, and stressed “we need to be sure that does not rule out close longer-term collaboration.”

Prime Minister Theresa May recently revealed the desire for the UK to remain part of the EMA following its departure from the European Union, saying that the government will “explore with the EU the terms on which the UK could remain part of EU agencies such as those that are critical for the chemicals, medicines and aerospace industries".

At the time, the announcement was widely welcomed by health care and industry leaders, who have long campaigned for continued co-operation on medicines regulation and research.

"As the next phase of talks begin, we will continue to make the case that the best way to safeguard patient safety and protect public health is for the UK and the EU to continue to cooperate on the regulation, trade and supply of medicines,” Thompson said, while the BIA's Bates stressed: "It is vital that medicines regulation is a priority for discussions to ensure public health and patient safety are not negatively affected by Brexit".