It was an action-packed conference season this year as each political party faced its own challenges and opportunities resulting from Brexit. The BIA attended four conferences to meet and influence policy makers at this critical time for our sector. Here we take a look back at the key speeches for life sciences, fringe events and private meetings that we attended.
The Conservative Party
There was recognition of the importance of the life sciences to the UK’s future in speeches and events across the Conservative Party conference.
In her keynote address, the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, hinted that the life sciences would feature prominently in the new industrial strategy, saying “we will identify the sectors of the economy – financial services, yes, but life sciences, tech, aerospace, car manufacturing, the creative industries and many others – that are of strategic importance to our economy, and do everything we can to encourage, develop and support them.”
May’s sentiments were echoed by the former Life Sciences Minister, George Freeman, in fringe events, as well as senior figures in the new Government. David Davis, the new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, said that the UK is “a science superpower. A world leader in research and the arts. A trailblazer in biotech, in digital, in pharmaceuticals.”
More good news for the life sciences was formally announced by Philip Hammond MP in his first conference speech as Chancellor. In a sign that the Government is listening to the evidence put forward by the BIA and our members, he acknowledged that the Biomedical Catalyst was a “Government intervention that works” and committed £100 million to continue the scheme.
BIA members were able to put forward more evidence to policy makers at a private roundtable meeting that we hosted, with discussion focussed on how we can maintain the UK’s world-leading position in the life sciences after Brexit. As in previous years, the BIA partnered with the AMRC, BIVDA and ABPI and invited our members along with a range of stakeholders from academia and the NHS to meet with MPs and policy makers. We were joined by five Conservative MPs: Kit Malthouse, Chair of the APPG for Life Sciences; John Glen, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor; Maggie Throup; Jo Churchill; and David Rutley. All were keen to hear about the opportunities and challenges of Brexit faced by our sector, and to discuss how they and the Government can help, including ensuring medicines regulation is high-up on the Brexit negotiation agenda, increasing access to finance, and using the NHS to drive progress through better uptake of innovation.
The BIA also met privately with Nicola Blackwood MP, the Health Minister with responsibility for NHS innovation and data, to discuss Brexit and the Accelerated Access Review, among other things.
The Labour Party
Fresh from re-election, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn used his conference speech to say that his party would raise UK R&D spending to 3% of GDP and launch its own Industrial Strategy review. Elsewhere, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Gordon Marsden, said that the reorganisation of Innovate UK and the Research Councils should be put on hold in light of the challenges created by Brexit.
At the roundtable hosted by the BIA with our partners, ex-university researcher and current member of the Commons Science & Technology Committee, Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods, spoke with BIA members about the value of international collaboration, international employees and the ability to conduct Europe-wide clinical trials, particularly for rare diseases.
The Scottish National Party
Up in Glasgow, all minds were firmly fixed on the future of Scotland’s relationship with the EU and the rest of the UK. SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon once again promised to hold a second Scottish referendum if she believes the Brexit deal struck by the UK Government doesn’t work for Scotland.
Sturgeon highlighted the life sciences as an industry in which Scotland excels and we met with a number of SNP MPs and Members of the Scottish Parliament keen to discuss how the sector could be strengthened and protected, as set out in the Transition Programme report produced by the BIA and ABPI over the summer.
The Liberal Democrats
At the Liberal Democrat conference, their EU spokesperson Nick Clegg emphasised that industry sectors need to make clear to the Government what their particular challenges and complexities of Brexit will be. He is producing a collection of ‘Brexit Challenge’ papers to help communicate some of the issues.