Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg

EU Drug Agency’s London Rent Threatens Brexit Fight Over Money

  • EMA’s rental liability could run to almost 350 million euros
  • EU Parliament notes ‘with concern’ lease has no break clause

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A fresh financial spat is brewing over the likely Brexit-spurred relocation of the European Medicines Agency from London.

The European Parliament signaled that the upcoming talks over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union should address a rental liability of almost 350 million euros ($382 million) stemming from the agency’s failure to include a termination clause in its office lease.

The EU assembly noted the omission from the rental contract running until 2039 “with concern,” and said “the costs associated with the relocation would reasonably be expected to be considered in the negotiations.”

This sets the stage for another dispute between the U.K. and EU over the drug regulator after they already clashed this month on whether it could remain in London after Brexit. While Prime Minister Theresa May’s government indicated this month that this might be possible, EU officials rejected the notion and said Britain would have no say in the EMA’s future after it leaves the bloc.

Draft negotiating guidelines set to be discussed by EU leaders at a summit in Brussels on Saturday say governments should settle the matter of the EMA’s future location “rapidly” and that “arrangements should be found to facilitate their transfer.”

The agency’s payable rent in the U.K. capital from 2017 through 2039 is “estimated at” 347.6 million euros, the Parliament said in a budget resolution approved in Brussels. Its rental agreement was signed in 2011, “when a potential exit of the U.K. from the union was not foreseeable,” according to the resolution.

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said on Thursday that he expected “intense competition” for the agency and that the winner could enjoy a 1 billion-euro boost to its economy. He said the decision over where to base the agency should be made this year.

About 20 countries have already expressed interest in hosting the EMA, which employs almost 900 people and oversees the safety of drugs sold in the EU.

Firms including Novartis AG and Pfizer Inc. said this month that a quick decision is needed to ensure there are no hold ups in regulating drug safety.

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