Britain could be at risk of medicines shortages if a post-Brexit deal falls through because the coronavirus crisis has “used up entirely” emergency stockpiles, the Government has been warned.
The pharmaceutical industry privately told ministers that global supplies were so low it would be difficult to amass new stockpiles in time for the December 31 deadline for the UK quitting the EU’s trade bloc.
Fears that the UK could crash out without a deal were stoked on Friday when EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier attacked the Prime Minister for “backtracking” on past political agreements and said talks towards a deal had failed to make progress.
British officials claimed some progress had been made but No 10 was adamant that Mr Johnson would not postpone the final departure from the EU system of rules at the end of this year, making a no-deal departure possible.
Drug companies say stockpiles cannot feasibly be rebuilt in time, according to a private memo reported by the BBC.
The internal industry memo, written in May by pharmaceutical industry groups, said that after the pandemic is over there will be “less or zero product available in the market to allow for stockpiling a broad range of products” compared with 2019, when the industry paid for six weeks’ worth of stockpiles.
It added: “Preparations for the end of the transition period must complement plans to secure the supply of coronavirus therapeutic and supportive products.”
A government spokesperson said “robust contingency plans are in place” for a no-deal exit but the UK was seeking a relationship “centred on free trade”. Britain left the EU on January 31 but remains subject to many rules for the rest of the year.