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The vultures are circling around one of the juicier morsels on the Brexit table: the Canary Wharf based European Medicines Agency (EMA).


There are calls – for example from Conservative MEP Kay Swinburne – to keep the agency in London post-Brexit, but this seems like wishful thinking because it is EU practice to use agencies to reward loyal member countries, not disloyal ones.

So far, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Sweden have bid to offer a new home to the agency. Hosting EU agencies is lucrative because while the costs are shared among all EU members, the benefits in terms of staging conferences, leasing office space and staff salaries accrue to the host country.

EMA is one of the bigger and more important agencies. Its 885 staff members just about get by on salaries and allowances totalling 56 million euros – a generous 63,250 euros (£54,400) each on average. EMA's departure from Canary Wharf, meanwhile, will create another big gap in the London commercial property market that is downturning after the Brexit vote.

EMA's main job is to evaluate new medicines and recommend their authorisation for sale in the EU single market. This makes it a honeypot for pharma executives – and not just those from British companies. The Japanese government's list of Brexit demands issued in September said that many Japanese pharmaceutical companies had located to London because of EMA's presence and its departure “could force Japanese companies to reconsider their business activities.” EMA's director Guido Rasi has said that wherever the agency goes next, it must be near an airport and hotels that can provide “350 rooms per night, five days a week.”

Brexit will also threaten the jobs of EMA's British staff. However, this effect might be less than expected. Local staff tend to be heavily over-represented in EU agencies and institutions – there are significantly more Belgians working for the European Commission in Brussels than would be expected from the size of the country, for example. But in EMA, Brits are if anything under-represented, with about 65 posts, significantly less than the French, Italian and Spanish contingents.

By Stephen Gardner. A version of this article was published in Private Eye.

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