U.K. votes to ‘fully participate’ in EMA after Brexit

British politicians have voted for the U.K. to try to remain close to the EMA after Brexit. The voted-for text tasks the government with seeking to secure the right for the U.K. to “fully participate” in the regional regulatory network after it leaves the European Union.

Over the past year, the U.K. government has repeatedly said it wants to retain close ties to the EMA, culminating in the publication of a white paper that envisions it remaining an “active participant” in the agency. In this vision, EMA approvals would continue to give drug developers access to the U.K. market. 

While that makes the U.K.’s desired position fairly clear, opposition politicians want to further tie the government to a pro-EMA negotiating strategy. To do so, politicians drafted a legislative amendment that stated the government must “take all necessary steps” to strike a trade deal that allows the U.K. to “fully participate” in the European regulatory network. 

The amendment passed by 305 votes to 301, reflecting the belief among many politicians that it is in the U.K.’s interests to stay closely tied to the EMA.

“Surely new clause 17 is a no-brainer. If we are going to preserve anything, we must surely keep the frictionless flow of medicines and treatments for our national health service going. If ever there were an example of an ideology getting in the way of common sense, it would be that of a hard Brexit attitude physically placing itself at the border in the way of the free flow of ​those medicines,” Chris Leslie, a politician in the opposition Labour party, said in a debate about the amendment.

However, while the vote pushes the government to try and retain close ties to the EMA, it is unclear whether the relationship sought by the politicians is possible. The government has detailed its desire to remain part of the European regulatory network in increasingly clear terms over the past year. But EU negotiators have consistently downplayed the prospect of the U.K. staying closely involved.

The disagreement centers on the implications of the red lines drawn by the U.K. government, which entered into the negotiations wanting to end freedom of movement of people and the involvement of the European Court of Justice in its affairs. Prime Minister Theresa May has since tried to blur some of her red lines but has yet to mount the full climb down that may be needed for the EU to grant the U.K. an ongoing role in the EMA.