EMA staff lower flags at London office as Amsterdam move nears

Staff at the European Medicines Agency have lowered the flags outside their London offices as they prepare to move to Amsterdam. The flag lowering took place as the EMA “symbolically said goodbye” to the city it has called home since its creation in 1995.

The EMA is set to leave its offices in London March 1 and start gradually moving staff into its temporary home in Amsterdam about 10 days later. In the intervening week, the EMA will “operate on the basis of extended teleworking,” with only a small number of staff occupying its Amsterdam offices to deal with any emergencies that arise.

While that schedule means EMA and its staff will physically be in London for another month, the agency has already begun the process of saying goodbye to its London home. On Friday, EMA staff lowered the 28 flags of EU member states that fly outside the agency’s offices.

News of the flag lowering ceremony triggered a wave of comments from people involved in research and politics, including former British diplomat Simon Fraser and Wellcome Trust Director Jeremy Farrar. Fraser called the relocation “a significant loss for London [and] for the U.K.,” adding that it “will be worse” if the country is no longer a member of the EMA after Brexit.

The relocation of the EMA will create challenges for the agency and the U.K. But, as it stands, the future of the EMA looks to be more certain and less perilous than that facing the country it is leaving behind.

As of last week (PDF), all of the workstreams involved in the EMA’s relocation were on track. The Spark site the EMA will occupy in March is fully operational, and the agency’s permanent home is on track to be ready by mid-November. The removal and logistics activities and financial, governance and legal changes involved in the relocation are all on schedule, too,

The situation in the U.K. is less clear. As it stands, the U.K. is on course to leave the EU without a deal on March 29. That could change if Prime Minister Theresa May persuades the U.K. Parliament to back her deal, be it the current or a new version, or if she asks the EU to delay Brexit. It may become clearer whether there is support in Parliament for any of the options tomorrow.