George Freeman is a former Minister for Life Sciences and Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Office (2016-18). He is co -author and editor of the Conservatives ’2020 book Britain Beyond Brexit.
There is no better description of the benefits that exist outside the EU than the success of the vaccine in the UK. Our leadership in genomics, vaccine research and development, accelerated access testing and our ability to purchase at a fast pace have allowed the UK to lead the world in the fight against pandemic. This is a London 2012 occasion for UK Life Science.
But it could have been different. In 2010, the UK Life Science sector was on the decline: Pfizer closed its UK R + D HQ, Astra Zeneca announced it was closing its UK R + D HQ to move to Massachusetts, and other companies reduced their presence in the UK.
The UK has fallen as a global option world. The combination of slower and more expensive clinical trials, slow NHS procurement, lack of leadership in genomics and clinical information (data on how new drugs work in patients) are ringing the bells in alarm.
The new Government responded. Recently elected after a career in the biomedical research sector, I was fortunate to be appointed Government Life Sciences to lead the UK Life Science Strategy.
We appoint Sir John Bell, launching a ten -year strategic commitment on the ground that genomics and clinical informatics are key to modern research. We present Genomics England, NHS Digital and MHRA as the same approvals. I have also launched the Biomedical Catalyst, Accelerated Access Reform to take over the NHS, the Early Access to Innovative Medicines Scheme and the UK Life Science Investment Office. We worked with AZ to persuade them to move to Cambridge UK, not Cambridge Massachusetts.
Over the next five years we have secured over £ 5 billion in investment. This is a model of what we can do in other sectors.
Boris Johnson got it. That is why I am pleased to accept the Prime Minister’s invitation to help lead the new Taskforce for Innovation, Growth and Regulatory Reform (TIGRR) with Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa Villiers. We come from the opposite side of the Brexit debate – two of us support Leave and one Remain – but have a shared determination to make it a moment of profound change. The urgency of post-Covid recovery makes this even more important than ever. Our TIGRR report published today shows how the UK can deliver on Brexit promises without abandoning our high standards.
We live in a unique time of technological change-not just in life sciences but in many sectors: from AI to robotics to agri-tech, nutraceuticals, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, biofuels, satellites and fusion energy.
The UK is truly a ‘superpower of science’. But it’s common for us to be damned to trade here in the UK. There are many reasons. However, in recent years, the EU’s slower, more bureaucratic approach and ‘caution’-copied by Whitehall-has made the EU and the UK an even more unsuitable place to trade new- the technology.
In 2013 BASF, one of the German industry giants, moved to the plant science division in the USA due to EU regulations restricting agricultural genomics which is the key to reducing chemical farming by launching of natural disease -resistant properties. That’s why I wrote the Fresh Start Report in 2014 urging the EU to change to avoid the UK’s control over the world’s slow biodiversity line. And why, as the UK Minister for the sector, I am pushing for reform and warning the EU that they risk leaving the UK if they don’t change. They don’t. We did.
For years Brexo-skeptics have been cautiously mocking the absence of a Brexit dividend. There is.
We need to be quick to promote a new era of ‘smart’ regulation. That means Britain is once again a global leader not only in science but in the commercialization of innovation. We can do that by using the City to make the UK a global financial innovation hub, and through our trade policies and assistance to improve global mobility and technology transfer. Now those decisions are in our hands. Our critics have argued that the only dividend to management is to eliminate workers ’rights and environmental standards in a‘ race to the bottom ’. They are really guilty.
Of course, there are some daft regulations we can remove such as the EU ban on uncooked potatoes. In fact, unripe potatoes reduce the need for nearly 14 applications of toxic (and highly carbonaceous) fungicides and help prevent starvation and starvation. We can also be without lobbyists dominating the corridors of Brussels for large corporations and enforcing regulations excluding new entrants.
Successive governments have announced ‘bonfires of red tape’. But no one wants a vaccine that hasn’t been thoroughly tested. Or food containing E. coli. Or a dangerous workplace with a lot of injury damage.
The key to wise regulation is to play to our strengths. We must embrace the world’s leadership of agile, agile regulation of the highest -growing sectors tomorrow. Globally, the UK is still credible as a regulator of choice. We have a chance to develop that.
The TIGGR report published today sets out three major recommendations for post-Brexit regulation.
First, a coherent strategic framework for governance leadership in the UK in an age of change.
Second, ten high-growth sectors that we can open NOW with the right control structure and where we need to focus our efforts for post-Covid Recovery.
Third, a strong commitment to providing proper accountability to Parliament. Restraining returns means that We set our regulations in a way that reflects UK values and UK public opinion.
Over the course of the past six months, we have held 75 industry roundtables. The result is a serious plan that ensures we can be a pioneer of smart, innovative regulation. Not to abandon our standards but to improve on them. The TIGRR report now shows how this can be done.