Novo Nordisk unveils £115m UK pharma investment, but Brexit is still destroying jobs

The new money, and the employment that will follow it, are coming in spite of Brexit not because of it

James Moore
Monday 30 January 2017 12:59
David Gauke has hailed Novo Nordisk's investment in the UK
David Gauke has hailed Novo Nordisk's investment in the UK

The investment of £115m in a new research centre in Britain by Danish drugs group Novo Nordisk was hailed as “a vote of confidence in the UK's position as a world-leader in science and research” by David Gauke, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

I was ever so slightly surprised that he didn’t say “Britain is open for business” as well. That seems to have become the stock reaction to this sort of announcement. Well, variety is the spice of life, I suppose.

Yes, it is good news, coming as it does after similar post-Brexit vote investment announcements by Novo’s domestic UK peers AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline.

The Government’s identification of pharmaceuticals as a key industry, which went hand in hand with a rather generous tax cut for drugs developed and patented here, appears to be paying off.

But here’s the thing: all these investments were headed our way before the EU referendum (see my above point about the tax cut).

It’s a relief that they have still landed in spite of it, and will therefore still create lots of economically welcome highly skilled, well paid jobs, plus lots of ancillary roles too.

It’s just that now, instead of adding to the economy, making it bigger, and helping the spread of prosperity, they’ll simply serve to replace jobs that are going away.

The most obviously comparable roles are those at the European Medicines Agency, which conducts scientific evaluation, supervision and safety monitoring of medicines developed by pharmaceutical companies for use in the EU. It employs 900 people in Canary Wharf including, among their number, a lot of highly skilled well paid people who are likely to see their jobs exported, along with all the support staff that go with them.

They’re all going to have to start looking for accommodation on the continent if they want to stay with the body. And, if they’re British, they’re going to have to start thinking about things like visas too.

We have also started to see the export of still more highly skilled, well paid jobs from the City of London as banks and other financial institutions react to the Government’s mad insistence on a hard Brexit. Plus all the ancilliary jobs that go with them.

That hard Brexit will deny financial companies the passporting rights that facilitate their selling services across the continent. So they're shipping out to protect their businesses.

When ministers hail the post-Brexit success of the UK economy, it is also worth remembering that we are unlikely to hear about the jobs that might have been created alongside the ones Novo Nordisk is creating but now won’t be because of Brexit.

Companies like to announce where they are putting money, and jobs. They don’t tend to make a big fanfare about where they are not putting money and jobs. So we don't really know what this country has lost.

Experts sometimes try and make estimates, but as Michael Gove infamously said during the EU Referendum campaign, Britain doesn’t much like experts. Far easier to believe in alternative facts and the magic Brexit jobs fairy, hey.

Novo Nordisk’s investment is good news. But it pays to treat to the brouhaha accompanying its announcement, and the tub thumping from ministers like Mr Gauke, with a degree of scepticism.

Beyond the civil servants needed to handle negotiations, Breixt hasn't created any jobs, and when it comes to employment, the UK would have been better off in the EU.

The economy has held up well to date, but damage from the loss of the jobs that aren't being created here, and from the loss of the jobs that are being exported back to Europe, will be felt eventually.

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