Intended for healthcare professionals


Doctor clashes with Rees-Mogg over risks of no deal Brexit

BMJ 2019; 366 doi: (Published 03 September 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l5379
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

A consultant neurologist who helped draw up the government’s contingency plans for exiting the European Union without a deal has clashed with the leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, over the potential risks to patients from a no deal Brexit.

David Nicholl, who was involved in developing the mitigation plans for the government’s Operation Yellowhammer in March, called in to LBC’s Nick Ferrari radio show to ask Rees-Mogg what mortality he was willing to accept if a no deal Brexit occurred. Nicholl said that lives were at risk from potential shortages of drugs and radioactive isotopes and pointed out that he had blown the whistle on the contingency plans because he believed them to be unsafe.

But Rees-Mogg rejected Nicholl’s premise. “I don’t think there’s any reason to suppose that a no deal Brexit should lead to a mortality rate,” he said. “I think this is the worst excess of ‘project fear,’ and I’m surprised that a doctor in your position would be fearmongering in this way on public radio.”

Rees-Mogg insisted that there were “reserve plans to fly drugs in if necessary,” adding, “This is a major focus of government policy. I think it’s deeply irresponsible of you to call in and try to spread fear across the country. I think it’s typical of remainer campaigners, and you should be quite ashamed, I’m afraid.”

But Nicholl said he stood by his remarks and challenged Rees-Mogg to report him to the General Medical Council if he had concerns about his probity. “I am quite happy if you want to refer me to the GMC; we can talk about it there,” Nicholl said.

Nicholl later added, “I am not bothered about Jacob Rees-Mogg. I’m not going to take a single word of health lessons from a muppet like him. What does he know about epilepsy or neuropathic pain?

“What I am worried about is my patients. To suggest I am wrong in what I say is defamatory. When, as I have done, I look people in the eye and say some of the drugs they are on might be in short supply, and [they] are understandably worried, what he says about me is ridiculous.”

The clash came amid fresh warnings this week from medical leaders and experts about the potential impact of a no deal Brexit on the NHS.

In a briefing paper published on 2 September the BMA warned of “catastrophic” consequences for doctors, patients, and services at a time when the NHS was already struggling to cope with rising demand.1

And on 3 September the Health Foundation and the health think tanks the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust issued a joint open letter to MPs warning that a no deal Brexit could “significantly impede services.”2


  • Analysis Assessing the health effects of a “no deal” Brexit doi:10.1136/bmj.l5300


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