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How the EU can still help us fight COVID-19
01 Apr, 2020

Coronavirus has changed our lives, possibly for ever. After five years of Remain campaigning, starting with Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum, battling to win the vote, losing the vote, calling for a People’s Vote and losing two general elections, we should have expected by now to be monitoring the disastrous steps that would take us out of the EU.

Instead, we are faced with an even bigger crisis. Thousands are dying, much of the economy of the world is in lockdown and people are worried whether they will have enough money for food and rent.

When we come through this, where shall we be in terms of Brexit? Please make sure you add your name to this petition to suspend the date of our withdrawal. But will an uncertain future be what people want after this is over? Will companies who will be on their knees want to break off longstanding relationships with existing European partners and step out into the unknown? Will we all have a set of new priorities that put health, care for each other, education, worker protection and employment first? Will that affect what we decide to do in the future?

Will it be sensible to follow the economic crash that COVID-19 will create with more predicted damage to the economy that will follow from Brexit? Will the then state of the economy make it foolish to step away from our known and tested partnership with Europe?

As we self-isolate for weeks and months, as Remainers we shall be continually thinking of what will be the implications, once this is all over.

We know that the arguments of the Leavers were flimsy and lacked any depth. After coming through this terrible time, will they see that issues like protecting the NHS, food standards, health & safety and job security which are imbedded in the EU are the things that really matter?

Here are some consequences of Brexit that will impact on our present plight.

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)

This EU independent agency has come to the fore as it monitors the spread of the virus across Europe. Set up in record time in Sweden in the wake of the SARS epidemic, the Centre was operational from 2005. The relevance of the Centre’s mission was confirmed shortly after it began operating, when the arrival of H5N1 avian influenza in the EU’s neighbourhood led to fears that the disease could adapt or mutate into a pandemic strain of human influenza.

The ECDC currently operates to provide

  • surveillance and response support
  • public health capacity and communication
  • resource management and coordination
  • information and communication technologies

The Disease Programme of the ECDC focuses on specific disease groups including

  • antimicrobial resistance and healthcare-associated infections
  • emerging and vector-borne diseases
  • tuberculosis
  • vaccine-preventable diseases

It also monitors and produces surveillance and threat reports on the spread of diseases outside the EU, including the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS).

In addition to EU member states, three members of the European Economic Area participate in the ECDC network: Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

SINCE BREXIT, THE UK IS NOT A MEMBER OF THE EU AND THEREFORE NOT A MEMBER STATE OF THE ECDC

European Medicines Agency

In January 2017 Jeremy Hunt - the then Health Secretary, - announced that, because the EMA is subject to the European Court of Justice, the UK would be leaving. In an apparent change of heart, Hunt now says that Brexit will make it harder to fight future pandemics

But in the light of this decision, in the ensuing month Professor Paul Workman, President of the Institute of Cancer Research was quoted as saying that because of our withdrawal from the EMA ‘there is no question that delays in the approval of life-saving new medicines will prove fatal for some. Pharmaceutical companies would naturally seek regularity approval for new drugs in the biggest markets first, potentially putting the UK behind the EU, United States and Japan’. He also said that it could mean up to two years before new drugs become available to British citizens compared to those from other countries.

Professor Michael Rawlins, chair of the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Committee - which would take over from EMA in the UK - said that the UK would be ‘at the back of the queue’ for new drugs.

THE UK HAS LEFT THE EMA – WHICH MOVED ITS HEADQUARTERS FROM LONDON TO AMSTERDAM IN 2019 ALONG WITH 600 STAFF.

Coronavirus ‘mix-up’ over EU ventilator scheme

On Thursday 26th March, Downing Street said the UK would not be joining a scheme organised by the EU to give buying power to purchase more stock for tackling Coronavirus, because ‘we are no longer members of the EU’. Layla Moran MP accused the Prime Minister of putting ‘Brexit before breathing’. The EU had invited the UK to join the scheme - but Downing Street has since claimed that there was a problem with emails and communication.

The EU’s scheme will use the bloc’s joint procurement agreement, which helps member states get the medical supplies it needs to tackle cross-border pandemics.

THE EU HAS ALREADY CREATED A STOCKPILE OF MEDICAL EQUIPMENT - 90% OF IT FINANCED BY THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION – TO HELP EU COUNTRIES. (BBC News – UK Politics 26 March 2020)

Richard Newcombe
Chair of London4Europe

London4Europe blogs are edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.