Attention deficit

Dianne Hayter on further evidence of the government’s lack of operational planning for the day after Brexit

We recently had the slightly unedifying experience of even the most hardened ex-Cabinet Brexiteers urging Ministers to heed pleas from the pharmaceutical industry, Cancer UK and eminent doctors, to bring into domestic law rules on clinical trials that the government itself voted for in 2014. The reason being that, in order to participate in pan-European clinical trials on potential new drugs, every player must use the exact same regulations and be consistent across the piece.

Redrawn four years ago, the time it takes for the regulations to be implemented means they will not be ‘operational’ until after Brexit. The government’s EU Withdrawal Bill, however, only brings over rules ‘operative’ on the day we leave. Hence the plea to amend the legislation to ensure that the UK has the right regulations after our departure and that we can continue to participate in – often leading – these vital trials, which are particularly important for rare and childhood diseases.

Today in the Lords, on the eighth day of Committee on the Bill, there will be yet another plea to Ministers to tackle a practical problem arising from Brexit with regards to our insolvency regime. 

Suppliers to companies are more willing to give credit if they know there is a chance of recovering the loan in the event of the business becoming insolvent. And the same is true of investors, consumers pre-paying for goods, or landlords requiring less rent in advance – as long as they are confident any assets cannot slip away should the company go into the red.

Insolvency regulations across the EU boost this confidence. It enables a liquidator or administrators, seeking funds here on behalf of creditors, to chase down assets across the EU for the simple reason that their appointment or a UK court order is recognised abroad. So they can freeze or obtain goods and money due to suppliers, staff, pension schemes or even our Inland Revenue.

The loss of such mutual recognition could make it all too easy for directors to make off with what is left of a floundering business, putting its assets well out of reach of those to whom money is due. That is why the government needs to be negotiating on-going arrangements for after we leave the EU.  To date, however, Ministers have shown little concern – hence the amendment I will move today that calls for action well before Brexit day.

It is unlikely to be the last complication from our withdrawal, and concerns about family law and children’s rights have already been raised in earlier debates on this particular Bill. As have the need for mutual recognition of professional qualifications, to allow auditors to continue to work for multi-nationals across the EU; and for lawyers to keep representing UK clients in European courts.

The lack of government movement on all of these matters is enormously worrying but appears at present to be ruffling few feathers within Whitehall. If Ministers were paying proper attention to the Lords debates, DExEU and No.10 would be rethinking their Brexit negotiation strategy. Sadly, no such sober reflection appears to be happening at present, and our departure from the EU looks set to have untold consequences that will be felt first hand by millions of families, patients and businesses.

Baroness Dianne Hayter of Kentish Town is Shadow Brexit Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @HayteratLords

Published 19th March 2018

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