Coronavirus: Post-Brexit UK medical stockpile has been 'used up entirely'

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
Coronavirus pandemic has exhausted UK's stockpile of medicines for a post-Brexit emergency. (Getty)

Post-Brexit stockpiles of medical supplies have been “used up entirely” due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a warning from the UK’s pharmaceutical industry.

The memo warns that, compared with 2019, when significant stockpiling for a potential no-deal Brexit last occurred, the pandemic means that there will be “less or zero product available to allow for stockpiling a broad range of products.”

But the pharmaceutical industry has also cautioned against the government taking any “drastic” steps to stockpile drugs, noting that any changes to global supply chains could “fundamentally disrupt the supply of medicines for the NHS and patients in other countries.”

The memo, seen by the BBC, was prepared by the industry for the government in May.

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It said that the flow of medicines has continued throughout the pandemic due to “international coordination and information sharing within global companies to ramp up, and where necessary, redirect manufacturing.”

A government spokesperson told the BBC that “robust” contingency plans were in place ahead of the end of the Brexit transition phase, noting that the UK wanted a relationship with the EU that is based on “friendly cooperation between sovereign equals and centred on free trade.”

The UK government must decide by the end of June whether to extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020.

If the country does not strike a sufficiently expansive trade deal with the EU, congestion at the ports of Dover and Calais could cause issues with the UK’s drug supply.

Some 90% of the drugs and medicines imported from the EU to the UK use this route.

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The industry has told the government to buy and store a longer list of “critical products” in cases where their “supply could be challenging due to either COVID-19 or the end of the [Brexit] transition period.”

The memo notes that the government needs to develop a broader list of critical products to “reflect the challenges posed by both the end of the transition period and continued response” to the pandemic.

The UK government has said it will not seek an extension to the Brexit transition period under any circumstances, leaving it just seven months to strike a trade deal that would under normal circumstances take years.

Amid the coronavirus crisis, a looming recession, and expectations of a prolonged economic recovery, the government has faced growing calls to request an extension to the transition.

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