Yesterday (09/01/2019) the UK Parliament started to debate the government's Brexit 'Withdrawal Agreement'. The debate will go on for 5 sitting days with a vote scheduled for Tuesday 15 January 2019. The Withdrawal Agreement sets out how the UK will leave the EU. It's important to remember that this is not the end of Brexit (sorry). It is the beginning of a longer process that will try to establish the future long term relationship between the UK and the EU.
If you're thinking 'we've been here before', you're right! The debate was originally planned for the end of last year but the government pulled the debate before MPs could vote on it.
We said that we'd keep people updated about what's going on and what you might want to know, so here's our take on the upcoming Brexit action.
Why it matters?
The Withdrawal Agreement matters to people with epilepsy for a number of reasons. These include the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit on access to medicines, NHS staffing and access to health care services in other EU countries. Currently UK citizens can access free healthcare in other EU countries. Of course there are many other reasons why Brexit is important to people or why they might be concerned. We think the areas set out above are particularly important to people with long term conditions including epilepsy.
A lot of what happens next depends on whether MPs accept or reject the government's Withdrawal Agreement.
Parliament votes against the deal
If a majority of MPs vote against the Withdrawal Agreement then we are back into unchartered territory. After losing the vote, the government would have just 3 sitting days to come back to Parliament and set out what it plans to do next. Even if the government loses the vote, there are other options to avoid a no-deal Brexit but a no-deal situation would become more likely.
At the moment it is written in law that the UK will leave the EU on 29 March 2019. If Parliament cannot agree on how the UK should leave before this date a no-deal Brexit becomes more likely. Epilepsy Action is concerned about the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit on people affected by the condition. Many epilepsy medicines are manufactured in, or bought into the UK through, the EU.
The government has been drawing up plans to ensure that medicines, including epilepsy medicines, remain available in the event of a no-deal Brexit. In August Epilepsy Action put out a blog explaining the government's no-deal plans for people with epilepsy.
The Health Minister, Matt Hancock, and others have given assurances that access to medicines will not be affected by a no-deal Brexit. On Sunday 6 January the Chief Executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, gave similar assurances that there would not be drug shortages in the event of a no deal.
"If everyone does what they are being asked to do, particularly around the transport and logistics infrastructure, then yes that will be the case."
Despite these welcome assurances, the truth is that we just don't know how a no-deal Brexit might play out. If the government loses the vote on Tuesday, they are likely to step up their no-deal preparations including publishing more plans and advice.
Because of the uncertainty around this issue, it is important that people listen to and act on official advice. Epilepsy Action will be following developments very closely in this situation and providing all the advice and information we can.
Parliament votes for the deal
If a majority of MPs vote for the Withdrawal Agreement, the second stage of negotiations could begin. They are likely to focus on the future relationship between the UK and EU.
The government's current Withdrawal Agreement includes a two-year 'transition period'. That would mean that for 2 years after 29 March 2019, the UK would stay closely linked to the rules and regulations of the EU. During this period there would be very little change for people with epilepsy – medicines would continue to move freely between the UK and the EU and UK citizens would still be able to access free healthcare in other EU countries.
During these two years, the UK and EU would look to negotiate a longer term deal that would clarify how the relationship between the two would look and work into the future.
What is Epilepsy Action doing?
We have been working hard to ensure the views and concerns of the epilepsy community are represented in the Brexit debate. We have been following developments closely and working with other organisations to raise concerns, you can read more about this here. This includes putting pressure on the government where necessary to best protect people with epilepsy, deal or no deal.
In reality, we simply don't know. We should know more after the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement but there is no simple answer.
Epilepsy Action will be monitoring the situation closely as the Brexit debate steps up. We'll be sure to keep people updated on any important developments as they happen. As always, we'll be speaking up for the epilepsy community on these important issues.
If you would like to talk to someone about epilepsy, you can contact the Epilepsy Action Helpline for free on 0808 800 5050 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.