Brexit ‘Benefit’ Myths
Last updated 9 May 2021
The government and its supporters are beginning to claim the benefits of being outside the European Union and it would be churlish to suggest there are none. However, some of the benefits being claimed were either already available to EU member states or, in other cases, are not benefits at all. Yorkshire Bylines will attempt to record and where necessary debunk the claims using reliable and trustworthy sources.
No 6. The Daily Express is reporting claims by Health Secretary Matt Hancock that the UK was able to approve a drug for treating lung cancer quicker because we have left the EU.
The report concerns the drug Osimertinib, made by AstraZeneca and sold under the brand name Tagrisso. It was licensed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) previously, but it has been extended to include use in early-stage disease treatment after the cancer has been surgically removed.
The Express report adds that the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will make the final decision. But the EMA website suggests the same change is also being made to the EU approval.
On 22 April 2021, the EMA said, the “Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) adopted a positive opinion recommending a change to the terms of the marketing authorisation for the medicinal product Tagrisso. The marketing authorisation holder for this medicinal product is AstraZeneca AB”.
Approval for this change to the marketing authorisation is now awaiting a decision by the European Commission.
As far as Yorkshire Bylines can determine, if there is any difference between the date when Tagrisso is approved for early-stage cancer treatment in the UK and in the EU, it is not likely to be significant.
No 5: Covid-19 Vaccination roll out was quicker because of Brexit
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg have claimed that Brexit allowed the UK to authorise the use of the Pfizer vaccine before countries in the EU.
This is not true. The BBC fact checked it and said, “the fact that the UK is the first country in the world to approve this vaccine has got nothing directly to do with Brexit.”
The chief executive of the UK’s Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), Dr June Raine, has said that “we have been able to authorise the supply of this vaccine using provisions under European law, which exist until 1 January”.
The BBC quote Dr Raine saying, “Our speed or our progress has been totally dependent on the availability of data in our rolling review, and the rigorous assessment and independent advice we have received.”
Even before approval the MHRA website said: “if a suitable COVID-19 vaccine candidate, with strong supporting evidence of safety, quality and effectiveness from clinical trials becomes available before the end of the transition period, EU legislation allows for temporary authorisation of supply in the UK, based on the public health need.”
The MHRA gave temporary authorisation to the supply of specific batches of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine on 2 December 2020 under EU law. EU member states could also have used the same provision but chose not to.
No 4: Northern Ireland opportunities
There is no new ‘globally unique opportunity’, since Norther Ireland had access to both the UK and the EU27 through the single market before Brexit. The extra border formalities between NI and GB are a disadvantage.
Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium writing on the UK in a Changing Europe website on the very last day of 2020, says:
“There is a plethora of red tape for business in Northern Ireland and, notably, those in GB who trade with NI. And remember, the supply chain will always take the path of least resistance. It doesn’t matter if the new costs are 1% or 1000% above the profit margin, it means those businesses won’t deal with Northern Ireland.”
Mr Connolly says they will look to see at how there can be further simplifications on processes such as customs formalities or SPS requirements which “must provide a long term, practicable and workable solution to allow NI business to be competitive and keep costs down for NI households”.
Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has actually denied the Irish Sea Border is a border at all but seems to portray the additional paperwork burden associated with customs, Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) checks as a ‘benefit’.
No 3: Freeports
The government plans up to ten freeports across the UK, with the implication that this is only possible because the UK has left the EU. A report in City AM from October says, “The initiative will be made possible when the country leaves the EU’s single market and customs union on 31 December”. This is not true. The BBC reality checker from July 2019 makes it clear that there are more than 80 free ports already in the EU.
The BBC reality check links to a 2018 report from the House of Commons Library which explains that, until 2012 when establishing legislation was allowed to expire, there were free port areas already in Liverpool, Southampton, Tilbury, Sheerness and at Prestwick Airport and that “the Treasury currently has the power to designate free ports by Statutory Instrument”. So being a member of the EU did not prevent us having freeports.
The respected UK Trade Policy Observatory (UKTPO) cautions that evidence of wider economic benefits of freeports and other zones is “mixed” and there is “also a risk that freeports and zones don’t create new economic activity but rather divert existing business into the area with the allure of tax breaks – at a cost to the taxpayer in the form of lost revenue”.
No 2: The tampon tax
In 2016 the UK won a promise from the EU to be able to scrap the current 5 percent VAT on sanitary products, with the government believing the new system would be in place by April 2017.
After the referendum, the timetable slipped. There is “no sign that the current Tory government has pushed the issue in Brexit talks”, Labour MP Paula Sherriff said in 2018.
But the European Commission still published proposals covering the abolition of the tampon tax in 2018. Although the earliest date for implementation is January 2022, that’s just one year after the transition period ended.
So we could have abolished the tampon tax ourselves at least three years ago, or we could have waited another year and the EU would have abolished it across all remaining member states.
No 1: Pulse fishing
France’s agriculture ministry announced in August 2019 that it had officially banned electric pulse fishing from its territorial waters, ahead of a total ban of the contested practice in the European Union set for 2021.
Bernard Jenkin MP claims that although the EU did ban it, the practice is not totally outlawed since it is still permitted under the guise of research. Some campaigners believe pulse fishing is less stressful for fish.
It is not clear how much pulse fishing was actually carried out in UK waters anyway.