Brexit battle heats up over winning EMA from London

London Guard

A long list of EU countries would love to be home to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) post-Brexit--France, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary and more. But the U.K. is not going to let it go without putting up at least some resistance.

Immediately after the U.K. vote in June to quit the EU, other countries thrust their hands in the air to say they wanted the EMA. But U.K. officials are pointing to the fact that about a third of the EMA’s work is actually handled by experts from the U.K.’s own pharmas regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, Bloomberg reports. Separating the two agencies would mean the EU would have to get others to handle that work, they said at a recent hearing.  

Lending his voice to keeping the EMA in the London is Andrew Witty, CEO of the U.K.’s largest drugmaker, who told Bloomberg that the loss of talent and disruption to the agency and industry would be too great to warrant a move.

“Those who don’t leave have to relocate,” Witty said. “This is a regulator who is keeping an eye on the health and safety of hundreds of millions of Europeans. You don’t want them with their eye off the ball.”

Being home to the regulator would convey prestige on any country, but there are many other benefits. It comes with about 900 jobs whose salaries are paid by the EU and not the host country. Its presence also attracts scientific meetings and conventions that mean more money for the host country.

And so it is coveted by many countries, some of which have their own arguments to make in favor of relocating the EMA to their countries, and their own pharma execs to make them.

Copenhagen, Denmark, is already home to the European headquarters of the World Health Organization, for example. “There are very few regions that can match this area in this field,” Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, chief science officer at Novo Nordisk, told the news service.

Sweden, meanwhile, points to the fact that Stockholm is home to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

But already being home to an EU regulatory agency could actually work against countries. Lithuania’s foreign vice-minister Raimundas Karoblis says the EU would like for most members to be granted at least one regulator and there are plenty that have none, like Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Cyprus and Slovakia.

Other possibilities include moving the agency to a country outside the eurozone to prove that the union doesn’t discriminate against those countries that don’t use the currency.

But the U.K. is not going to let it go without a barney. George Freeman, the chairman of Prime Minister Theresa May’s policy board, said last month that the EMA should be kept in London. “We’ve got to demonstrate that it’s not in Europe’s interest to take the EMA away.”