Because the UK-EU deal or no-deal drama limps on, most consideration focuses on the financial penalties of a brand new commerce relationship. However UK well being safety – within the sense of measures to forestall and mitigate well being emergencies reminiscent of pandemics – can be very a lot at stake.
Regardless of the ravages of COVID-19, health-related issues have performed a marginal function within the negotiations over the longer term UK–EU relationship. What is evident is that either side are heading in numerous instructions. The UK’s want to regain management of policymaking is basically at odds with the EU’s more and more cooperative method to well being safety.
If this divergence persists, it would have lasting public well being implications, particularly relating to constructing resilience in opposition to the subsequent pandemic. That’s the reason the political declaration on the longer term UK–EU relationship agreed by either side in October 2019 highlighted the necessity for well being safety cooperation. In actuality, What’s on supply is a diminished – or, within the occasion of a no deal, zero – involvement in EU public well being insurance policies.
Within the absence of a brand new settlement masking well being safety, the UK will lose the power to take part in a lot of necessary EU public well being establishments and programmes. This contains the European Centre for Prevention and Illness Management (ECDC) and its early warning and response system (EWRS) for the prevention and management of communicable ailments. Again in 2013, the UK authorities praised the work of the ECDC for instance of “the place the EU provides actual worth”.
Full entry to the EWRS and different information-sharing methods of the ECDC is reserved for EU and European Financial Space (EEA) member states. Different international locations could also be allowed short-term entry to handle a well being emergency that poses a cross-border risk in Europe. That a lot is supplied for within the EU’s draft of the UK–EU partnership settlement. Nonetheless, non-EU and non-EEA international locations don’t have routine entry to the total vary of ECDC well being coordination methods. The significance of early warning for infectious ailments was recognised by the UK Division of Well being, which lobbied Downing Road unsuccessfully to ask the EU to retain membership of the EWRS system.
There may be additionally the EU’s joint procurement settlement (JPA), which presently covers 37 international locations – together with the UK till the top of 2020. The JPA is a voluntary scheme for bulk shopping for medical tools and was utilized by EU international locations to buy ventilators in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The UK – one of many authentic signatory states of the JPA in 2014 – organised a separate initiative for procuring ventilator tools, with restricted success. The JPA is just out there to EU, EEA and candidate international locations, thus if the UK needed to stay a taking part state it could want to barter a brand new association with out precedent.
A key participant in well being procurement
The opposite post-Brexit complication the UK faces is that public well being is now a fast-moving space of EU coverage. The European Fee response to COVID-19 was to suggest a raft of legislative and monetary measures to battle the pandemic and enhance future EU preparedness. Present plans cowl joint procurement for medical countermeasures, private protecting tools (PPE) stockpiling, and a pharmaceutical technique geared toward lowering direct dependence on uncooked supplies sourced from non-EU international locations.
One space of this transfer to advertise what in EU-speak is dubbed souveraineté sanitaire (public well being sovereignty) stands out for its potential implications for the UK. Prompted by the shortage of pandemic preparedness, the EU is creating an emergency medical stockpile, together with PPE, beneath the RescEU programme. A sum of €380 million was earmarked earlier this 12 months to begin constructing these stockpiles, with extra spending deliberate for the longer term.
Because the world’s largest dealer in pharmaceutical and medicinal merchandise, the EU’s COVID-19-related insurance policies to advertise stockpiling and reshoring has severe potential to impression international markets. The larger the dimensions of the EU’s joint efforts in buying and stockpiling, the extra market energy it would have compared to the UK authorities. Concern of being squeezed out within the rush to purchase medical tools explains the eagerness of nations – together with rich Norway – to affix the JPA in 2020.
The UK faces an unsure future after 2020 if it opts to not negotiate with reference to well being safety with the EU. There’s a motive why the UK was, for a very long time, a champion of extra EU capability on this space. Privileging sovereignty over cooperation means the UK might lose out if the unilateral method fails to pay dividends.
Andrew Glencross has receives funding from the European Fee and the ESRC.