Britain can slash Brussels regulations on clinical trials for new drugs and on building near protected wildlife habitats now that it is leaving the European Union, Michael Gove has said.
The Tory MP and former cabinet minister, who was a key figure in the Brexit campaign, said the pledge to “take back control” could allow Britain to scrap “absurd” rules such as the European Commission’s Habitats Directive and Clinical Trials Directive.
“If there are regulations which hold any business here back, we now have the potential to amend or even if necessary rescind them,” Mr Gove told an audience in central London this week.
“I’ll mention one in particular. I know that pharmaceuticals is a huge British success story and export, but pharmaceuticals are to an extent held back by the principles of the Clinical Trials Directive, which in some respect inhibits, for example, the development of treatments which could be trialled in a particular way which would both help some of the suffering an advance innovation.”
The former Education Secretary said removing such regulations could help spur innovation in UK drugs companies and might produce new medicines to relieve “pain and misery”. He also pointed the finger as EU rules about building new homes in environmentally sensitive areas – such as his own constituency – for holding back developments. Mr Gove suggested those too could be scrapped.
“I am very, very keen – I may be odd in this respect as Conservative MP – on having more homes built in my constituency. It’s a social and economic good. But homes built in my constituency are governed by the Habitats Directive,” he said. “The Habitats Directive holds that if you build a home within five kilometres of a particular type of terrain, heathland, then you have to allocate, at the same time, something called suitable alternative natural green space to offset the environmental impact.”
He derided the rationale for such rules and said that the directive “massively increases the cost and the regulatory burden for housing development”. “As a result my constituents, and perhaps your children find homes more expensive and mobility in this country impeded,” he added.
Mr Gove is no longer a member of the Government. He served first as Education Secretary and then as Justice Secretary under David Cameron. He made his comments at an event hosted by Advertising Week Europe on Wednesday.
The Government plans to transfer all EU law into British law with the so-called Great Repeal Bill. Ministers are then expected to remove regulations they do not like on a case-by-case basis, meaning all EU laws would stay on the books until they were specifically repealed.
Last month the Government was accused of “worrying complacency” over the environmental damage that could come to Britain after it leaves the EU by campaign group Client Earth. The impact of Brexit on the pharmaceutical industry is uncertain. Before Brexit the UK had expected to contain two key EU institutions: the European Medicines Agency and the pharmaceutical division of the EU Unified Patent Court.
Mr Gove’s call to review the Clinical Trials Directive came just days after a widely reported failed clinical trial in the US left three women blinded with detached retinas and bleeding from their eyes.
Britain’s future relationship with the EU will be subject to negotiation after Theresa May triggers Article 50 on Wednesday next week.