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Leaving the EU: Contingency Planning

Volume 652: debated on Tuesday 15 January 2019

2. What progress his Department has made on contingency planning for the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (908557)

3. What progress his Department has made on contingency planning for the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (908558)

We do not want a no-deal scenario in our exit from the European Union, but it is incumbent on us to prepare in case. We asked medical suppliers to stockpile a further six-week supply over and above normal levels, and that work is going well. We will continue to work to ensure the unhindered supply of medicines in all Brexit scenarios.

The Prime Minister’s threatening of this Parliament and the country with no deal is entirely reckless, irresponsible and unnecessary. It is also causing unnecessary fear and anxiety among a range of clinicians and patients who rely on the consistent supply of life-saving drugs. The Secretary of State says that the Government are stockpiling medicines for up to six weeks. Will he do the right thing and commission an independent assessment of those plans so that patients can be reassured? Better still, will he go back to the Cabinet and say that no responsible Health Secretary would allow no deal to take place, no responsible Prime Minister would allow no deal to take place, and this House will not allow no deal to take place?

It is incumbent on me as Health Secretary and on my team to ensure that we prepare for all potential scenarios. Of course, because of the overwhelming vote of the House in favour of the withdrawal Bill, no deal is the law of the land unless the House does anything else. If the hon. Gentleman is so worried, the best thing that he and all his friends can do is vote for the deal tonight.

Would it not have been a better use of taxpayers’ money to have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on frontline patient care rather than on no-deal planning? The Secretary of State has just said to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) that the Government have to prepare for all possible scenarios. A responsible Secretary of State would rule out one of those scenarios, which is no deal.

As I said, thanks to the votes of Members in all parts of the House, no deal is a matter of the law of the land. They can’t get away from it: if they don’t like no deal, they need to join me in the Lobby tonight, and vote for the Prime Minister’s deal.

In Scotland, 6% of all social care staff are nationals of European countries. In England the figure is 8%. In Scotland, despite the Scottish Government paying the real living wage of £9 an hour, that comes nowhere near the £30,000 threshold proposed for a tier 2 visa. Can the Minister tell us here today what action he will take to avert a staffing crisis in social care?

We have brought into place already the EU settlement scheme to ensure that those EU workers who are working in social care and in the NHS can and should remain here and continue to contribute, as they do so valuably.

I know the Secretary of State wants to avoid a no-deal scenario, but can he look at the case of prescription foods, which my constituent Cait, who has PKU, relies on for keeping her life, and make sure they are also covered by no-deal planning?

We are working to ensure that the prioritisation of not just medicines, but medical products and other things needed for the health of the nation, is taken into consideration. There is detailed work under way that is clinically led; the medical director of the NHS is heavily engaged in that work and works very closely with the Department on it. I am very happy to go through the details of my hon. Friend’s constituency case to make sure that that is also being dealt with appropriately. I am glad that, because she does not want no deal, she will be voting with the Government tonight.

Legislation was passed two years ago so that the Secretary of State could end profiteering by some drug companies. Now drug shortages after a no-deal Brexit could mean soaring costs across UK health services, so why have the Government not set the regulations from this legislation so that we can use the powers and avoid a black market in medication?

We have already taken action to ensure that the cost of drugs is reduced. I am very happy to write to the hon. Lady with the extensive details of the agreements that have been made. The legislation is indeed important; so, too, is working with the drugs companies to make sure that we keep those costs down and yet also get the drugs that people need.

As the precursors of medical radioisotopes have a half-life of less than three days, they cannot be stockpiled. I have frequently asked the Government how they will maintain a steady supply if there is a no-deal Brexit. Can the Secretary of State answer—and please don’t say “Seaborne Freight”?

No, absolutely, we have ensured that there will be aircraft available, and air freight, to make sure that we can get those isotopes that have a short shelf life and cannot be stockpiled, and that there is unhindered supply. I make the following point to the hon. Lady and her colleagues, with an open mind and in a spirit of collaboration: if she is worried about no deal, which she seems to be, she and her party should support the Government tonight.

The Secretary of State boasts of being the world’s biggest buyer of fridges to stockpile medicines, but if sterling drops because of the Government’s mishandling of Brexit, the parallel trade in medicines could mean that stockpiles rapidly deplete as medicines are quickly exported back into the EU. Will he impose restrictions and suspend the necessary export licences that he is responsible for? Otherwise, he risks his fridges standing empty.

Of course, we have the legislative tools and powers the hon. Gentleman describes at our disposal; we know that. Nevertheless, stockpiling is going according to plan—it is going well—and the pharmaceutical industry has responded very well, with great responsibility. But I say, rather like a broken record—[Hon. Members: “You are.”] Yes, and it is important that I say it again and again and again. There is one route open to the House to avoid no deal, which Opposition Members purport to be worried about. They cannot complain about no deal unless they are prepared to do something about no deal, and to do something about no deal, they need to vote with the Government tonight.

If the Secretary of State has those powers, he should use them now. This is going to be the biggest disruption to patient safety we have ever seen. He is also proposing emergency legislation that means patients might not get access to the medicines their GPs prescribe. Can he tell us whether an insulin patient will be able to get their prescription within a day of presenting at a pharmacy? He is the Secretary of State for Health; why will he not do the responsible thing and rule out no deal, which will do so much damage to the NHS and patients?

Because of the votes of most of us in the House, including the hon. Gentleman, no deal of course is the law of the land unless the House passes something else. He is a reasonable man. He is a mentor of the old Blairite moderate wing of his party. He is absolutely a centrist. I do not believe that, privately, he believes in the hard-left guff that comes from other Opposition Front Benchers. He is a very sensible man and I like him an awful lot, so after this session and before 7 o’clock tonight, why does he not take a look in the mirror and ask himself, “In the national interest, is it best to vote for the deal and avoid no deal, or is it best to play politics?”

Order. Let me say very gently to the Secretary of State, who is renowned for his charm in all parts of the House, that his likes and dislikes are a matter of immense fascination to colleagues, including the Chair, but what is of greater interest is his brevity.