Intended for healthcare professionals


Your vote counts: how will a soft or hard Brexit affect health?

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: (Published 17 May 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j2338
  1. Anne Gulland, freelance journalist
  1. London, UK
  1. agulland{at}

Your vote on 8 June could affect whether the UK pursues a “hard” or “soft” Brexit. Anne Gulland looks at how each option might change healthcare

Almost a year after the UK voted to leave the European Union it is still unclear how Brexit will affect the country. The government has played its negotiating cards close to its chest, though if the Conservatives win the general election the signs are that the prime minister will pursue a hard Brexit. Theresa May has already indicated that she wishes to leave the single market and to break ties with the European Court of Justice. Other parties are taking a softer line, with the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, and Labour stating they wish to stay in the single market. So how will a soft or hard Brexit affect health?

Public health

Soft Brexit

Before the referendum many Remainers trumpeted the EU’s positive influence on public health through laws on air quality, drinking water, and food standards.1 The UK is also a member of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, which coordinates European action in the event of a disease outbreak, and it is unclear whether that membership would continue once the UK left the EU. If the UK joined the European Economic Area after Brexit it would become an observer on the centre’s management board and advisory forum. If it decided not to join the EEA but still wanted to participate the UK would have to adopt and “apply legislation of equivalent effect to EU legislation on communicable diseases,” the centre stated last year.

Hard Brexit

Peter Roderick, a barrister and principal research associate at the Institute of Health and Society at Newcastle University, says that, from a legal point …

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