Tory landslide election victory sets U.K. on path to Brexit

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson (EU2017EE/CC BY 2.0)

A thumping election win for the Conservative Party has positioned the U.K. to push ahead with plans to leave the EU. The new parliamentary arithmetic gives Boris Johnson the numbers to pass the withdrawal agreement and take the U.K. out of the EU, although what will happen after that remains a mystery.

The Conservative Party gained more than 60 seats, largely at the expense of its chief rival, leaving Johnson with a sizable majority. Johnson plans to use his majority to pass the withdrawal agreement, setting the U.K. up to leave the EU at the end of January.

That gives the biopharma industry a level of certainty, a commodity that has been in short supply since the U.K. voted to leave the EU in 2016. Yet, the big questions about the nature of the U.K.’s relationship with the EU remain unanswered. The Conservative manifesto offered scant detail about the points that matter to biopharma.

Faced with that vacuum, the U.K. pharma industry is already pushing for the government to follow its preferred direction of travel after Brexit. 

“The Prime Minister’s Brexit deal includes an important commitment to exploring close cooperation on medicine regulation. Achieving this will be important in prioritizing patients and public health as well as the future of the UK life sciences sector,” ABPI Chief Executive Mike Thompson said in a statement.  

The political declaration agreed upon by Johnson features several references to regulation, including a commitment to “explore the possibility of cooperation of United Kingdom authorities with Union agencies such as the European Medicines Agency” and work to “create a free trade area, combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation.”

However, Johnson’s version of the withdrawal agreement lacks the level playing field commitments present in an earlier draft, potentially giving him flexibility to diverge from EU rules. Taking the U.K. in a different regulatory direction than its neighbors would likely limit the scope of the trade deal the EU would be willing to offer. But having won a big majority on the promise to “get Brexit done,” Johnson may have support in parliament and the public for a cleaner break from the EU.