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UK asks drug companies to sign no-deal Brexit gag clause

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LONDON — Drug companies advising the U.K. government on how to maintain medicine supplies after a no-deal Brexit have signed strict non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) barring them from revealing information on planned border arrangements and supply routes.

The government is being so secretive that information is only being provided to firms orally, or via hard copies of documents that must be returned at the end of meetings, according to a draft NDA document published by Department of Health and Social Care.

Firms consulted on no-deal arrangements are threatened with injunction if they breach the terms of the agreements.

The government has been in close contact with the pharmaceutical industry, which is stockpiling drugs to ensure British citizens still have access to vital medicines if supply routes are disrupted by delays at the border.

The template NDA, published by the department in response to a written parliamentary question from the opposition Labour party, states that the government “will need to share confidential and sensitive information about customs and border arrangements and supply routes.”

Attendees at meetings are required not to divulge what they have heard, “not to take or make a copy of any papers provided for a meeting,” and “to return at the end of each meeting where requested any papers or material provided by the Department.”

Mike Thompson, CEO of industry body the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), told POLITICO: “Given the complexity of planning — including commercially sensitive information shared between government and industry — an NDA was agreed to support effective planning for continued medicines supply in a no deal Brexit.

“The ABPI is clear and continues to advise government that no deal is not in the interest of patients in the U.K. or the EU.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons health committee last week that he was “confident … so long as everybody does what they need to do” that the U.K. would have an “unhindered supply of medicines,” even if there is no deal.

“We are getting on with making sure that we have the plans in place, and we are taking the actions that we need to take now in order to have the mitigations in place,” he said.

The Department of Health and Social Care had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

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