Brexit: latest updates

With the Brexit landscape constantly changing, this article pulls together the latest updates on Brexit and its potential impact on health and care.

22 July 2021

The UK-EU negotiations 

UK Government seeks to renegotiate terms of NI Protocol

The UK govt issued a new policy paper on the Northern Ireland Protocol in which it suggests renegotiating the terms of the Protocol agreement to deal with issues that have arisen since the end of the transition period. 

The paper, published on 21 July, proposes that whilst these renegotiations take place, there should be  a ”standstill” which would “freeze” current arrangements, including grace periods, to avoid cliff-edges. The Government argues that goods imported into NI should be differentiated according to whether or not they’re at risk of entering the EU – and should not be subjected to EU border controls if they are destined to remain in NI. On medicines in particular, the paper recognises the concerns around cancer medicines for NI patients and "given the range and depth of these challenges, the simplest way forward may be to remove all medicines from the scope of the Protocol entirely".

In its response to the paper, the EU Commission's Vice-President, Maroš Šefčovič, said that EU stands ready to continue to "seek creative solutions" to facilitate trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, but those solutions should be “within the framework of the Protocol, in the interest of all communities in Northern Ireland" and the EU will not "agree to a renegotiation of the Protocol".

Read the response to the EU's rejection of re-opening the NI Protocol from our Director of Policy and International Relations, Dr Layla McCay.

European Parliament ratifies Trade and Cooperation Agreement

The European Parliament has voted (27 April) to ratify the Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the UK. The consent by MEPs means that the agreement, which has been provisionally applied since January, can fully enter into force on May 1. The European Commission has promised the Parliament “exceptional” powers to supervise and police the implementation of the deal, vowing that it would allow “adequate involvement” of MEPs in the “important decisions” made under the agreement — amending it, suspending parts of it or sanctioning Britain over violations of it and agreeing to keep MEPs “immediately and fully informed” about the activities of the deal’s 20 or so governing bodies.

The Brexit deal

The trade and cooperation agreement was concluded between the UK and EU on Christmas Eve and addresses many of the concerns repeatedly expressed by the NHS Confederation and Brexit Health Alliance over the last four years. There is a lot of good news, but some significant gaps compared with the arrangements that applied until the end of the post-Brexit transition period on 31 December. Inevitably the new relationship between the UK and EU has resulted in more complex and time-consuming procedures compared with the rules that applied when the UK was a member of the EU.

This letter to the health and care sector on 30 December 2020 from the Department of Health and Social Care provides an update on the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement and the government's preparations for the end of the transition period. The main changes as a result of the deal affecting the NHS are summarised on our news page and for a more detailed assessment of the impact of the deal, you can read the European Office’s briefing

The NHS Confederation also recently hosted an online event ‘What does the new Brexit trade deal mean for the NHS?’, looking at the impact of the Brexit deal on the NHS and wider health sector that supports it. The session detailed where we are in the process, shared a full run down of the agreements that have implications for health, and discussed what changes can be expected and where members can find the latest advice and guidance on Brexit issues. Visit the event page for the recording and presentation from the session.

The Withdrawal Agreement: Implementation 

The EU-UK Joint Committee

The Joint Committee has the overall responsibility to oversee and monitor the application of the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement, including the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol, which entered into force on 1 February 2020. It is co-chaired by the UK and the EU – the UK co-chair is Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP and the EU co-chair is European Commission Vice-President, Maroš Šefčovič. 

EU Exit response update

Professor Keith Willett, NHS England Strategic Incident Director for EU Exit, has written to NHS SROs, reminding them to maintain their current level of preparedness in case of potential further impacts on service delivery in the coming months due to EU Exit, following publication of the revised timetable for the implementation of border controls and that the approach to supply issues outlined in his letter of 30 December should continue to apply. His letter also makes reference to updated guidance on how NHS organisations should handle recovery of hospital charges from overseas visitors following implementation of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, as well as updates on data sharing and reciprocal care.

Accessing healthcare in the EU from 1 January 2021

The Government has launched its new Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC), which will gradually replace the existing European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and which will continue to guarantee the rights of UK citizens to receive emergency and medically necessary healthcare when travelling in the EU - this includes medically necessary treatment for a pre-existing or chronic condition. Current EHICs will remain valid for as long as they are in date and people can continue to use them when travelling in the EU and application for the replacement GHIC will only be necessary when a current EHIC expires. The new GHIC is free and can be obtained via the official website


Access to latest announcements and resources straight to your inbox, in order to keep you informed on how Brexit impacts the NHS.

Sign up Arrow pointing right