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  • Brendan Shaw

Brexit has gone to the dogs

Zack had a keen interest in the Brexit vote in the House of Commons this week.

Zack is our 13-year old, German Shepherd-Kelpie cross who’s half blind, half deaf and can’t walk properly.

And he’s diabetic.

He relies on insulin injections twice a day to survive.

What’s unclear at this stage is whether his insulin will be readily available from 11.01pm on Friday, 29 March when Britain may crash out of the European Union with no exit deal.

Without a deal, many of the EU regulations that recognise trade and common standards between the UK and the rest of the EU will end, including things like trade in dog insulin.

It’s also unclear whether our Australian-born dog, resident of the UK, holding a Swiss pet passport, updated by British veterinarians, will be allowed into France by French customs officials if he turns up at Dover to board the cross-Channel ferry to Calais for his annual French road trip after 29 March.

Such is the world today leading up to Brexit.

This week’s rejection by the House of Commons of Theresa May’s Brexit deal was remarkable and historic for many reasons. There’ll be lots written about it in coming days, months and years.

The May Government lost the vote on its Brexit deal with the EU 202 votes to 432 votes, a losing margin of 230 votes.

The size of the loss was larger than anyone had expected. Prior to the vote, commentators were saying that a loss by 200 votes or more would be a disaster.

And the result sent political pundits and media commentators rummaging through the history books to find the last time that a British government had lost a vote on the floor of the Commons by that much.

As of now, no one that I’ve seen has found any other time in history when a government has lost a Commons vote by so much.

And the government subsequently won a no-confidence vote in the Commons the day after the Brexit deal vote.


Medicines supply

There are any number of possible scenarios going forward but, as it stands, Britain is currently legislated to leave the EU at 11pm on Friday 29 March with no deal.

One question is whether medicines and vaccines will be readily available for patients in the UK and the rest of Europe after Friday, 29 March.

The British and European life sciences industries have been pleading with negotiators and politicians for years to get the transition arrangements for the regulation of medicines sorted out before Britain’s departure from the EU.

The British pharmaceutical association, the ABPI, expressed its disappointment the Parliament’s rejection of the Government’s Brexit deal, saying:

“we reiterate that ‘no deal’ would prove to be extremely challenging. With time running out we hope Parliament will come together and quickly find a solution to the stalemate and reassure patients that medicines will not be disrupted come March 2019”.

The ABPI view is shared by the European industry and reflects the feelings of many in the UK business community who voiced their despair that a deal had not been reached.

Pharmaceutical companies in the UK were recently informed in updated advice from the Government to prepare for the possibility of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, with advice that the flow of goods at British ports may be slowed over a period of up to six months if there's no deal.

Companies are stockpiling medicines, including insulins for humans at least.

And it's a big deal.

Each month 45 million packs of medicines travel from the UK to EU and 37 million packs of medicines travel the other way.

This might well be disrupted if Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal.

The Government has also been preparing special ‘priority lanes’ at British ports and plane charters to bring essential medicines to ensure supplies in the event of a ‘no-deal’, as well as contingency plans for possible traffic jams near British ports and identifying emergency ferry ports if congestion is too great.

How this will all play out if the Britain crashes out in a ‘no-deal’ Brexit is anyone’s guess.

Politics and the art of compromise

The ABPI’s response is part of a broader business lament across Britain and Europe with the realisation that with around 70 days left until Britain leaves the EU at the time of writing, Britain still has no deal on how that is going to happen.

It was once said that politics is the art of compromise.

Well, a bit of compromise on all sides of politics about now would manifestly help the situation.

The MPs across the House of Commons are completely divided on the best way forward and there many different options.

There are those who support the Prime Minister’s plan or a variation of it, there are those who support a crash out ‘no-deal’ Brexit, there are those who support a softer Brexit with several variations, there are those who want Britain to remain in the EU and not leave at all, and there are those who believe that there should be another referendum to let the people decide.

Within minutes of the Government surviving the no-confidence vote this week, Theresa May said she would invite leaders of the country’s political parties to talk "immediately" about options to get an agreed position in the Commons.

All of the options are possible, but none of them are certain.

It’s all a mess and, despite what I’ve said before about the conduct of the debate at times, a bit of leadership and compromise from wiser heads would be well-placed about now.

The fracturing of the ‘Westminster’ system?

More broadly, as a non-British person who has studied, worked in and around the ‘Westminster’ system of government for years, watching many of its traditions and principles fragmenting and collapsing in the face of Brexit has been extraordinary.

The ‘Westminster’ system of government includes some basic principles of parliamentary and governmental procedure and tradition, including things like cabinet solidarity, political parties and an official Opposition, and executive control or ‘royal prerogative’ over things like treaties and trade agreement negotiations.

Many of these traditions of the ‘Westminster’ system have gradually crumbled away in Westminster itself over the last two years.

Traditional political parties have fractured on positions, cabinet ministers have often more or less openly disagreed with the Prime Minister, and the Parliament has flexed its muscles threatening to take the role of trade agreement negotiation away from the executive to be conducted by parliamentarians themselves.

All triggered by one of the most important political issues Britain has faced since the Second World War.

The birthplace of the ‘Westminster’ traditions of government is now seeing a shattering of these principles in a bid to enforce democracy and find a solution.

Let's hope for Zack's sake they all get it sorted out soon.

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