Steve Brine resigned from the government to support a move that gives MPs the chance to consider which form of Brexit they would support.
Brine ended his 20-month tenure as a health minister on 25 March 2019 in order to vote against a government three-line whip and back a cross-party amendment that gave backbench MPs a series of “indicative votes” on alternatives to the current draft EU withdrawal agreement.
Prime minister Theresa May had instructed Conservative Party MPs to vote against the amendment, but it was passed on 25 March 2019 by a majority of 329 to 302. MPs will take control of the parliamentary agenda on 27 March 2019 to hold the indicative votes.
Responding to news of Brine’s resignation, Simon Dukes, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), said the former minister had been “central” to the committee’s “considerable progress in rebuilding a constructive working relationship with government” over the past year.
“Given the extraordinary situation in parliament at the moment, it is unclear when another minister might be appointed, but as soon as an announcement is made we will begin the urgent task of building a collaborative relationship with them,” Dukes said. He added that he would “today contact the secretary of state for health and social care to restate our ambition to work together collaboratively and to stress the need to take forward our discussions on the future of community pharmacy without delay”.
The PSNC had said it hoped to begin negotiations on a new community pharmacy contract “by Easter” 2019.
In his resignation letter, Brine told the prime minister that the UK leaving the EU without a deal was “not acceptable to me or in the national interest”. He added that while he had twice supported her draft withdrawal agreement, and would do so again, it was “a tall order for it to pass the House of Commons”. A series of indicative votes were the only way, in his view, that parliament could find a “common position” and, therefore, Brine said that the “honourable thing” was for him to resign in order to support the cross-party amendment.
Brine said his stance on a no-deal Brexit scenario had been formed by multiple factors, including his 20-month stint at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) — but he paid tribute to the DHSC team which, he said, “have done everything [it could] to ensure medicines and medical supplies will be protected for patients whatever form our exit from the EU takes”. Healthcare is “the best prepared department in Whitehall”, Brine added.
He concluded his resignation letter by saying that he had “cherished and enjoyed” his work in the DHSC and would continue some of that work from the backbenches.
Chief executive of the National Pharmacy Association, Mark Lyonette, said: “As pharmacy minister, Steve Brine showed a willingness to engage positively with our sector and we hope he will continue an active interest now he is on the backbenches.
“We will make the case to his successor that the current situation in community pharmacy is unsustainable and needs urgent attention — and that we want to work in partnership to make things better for pharmacists, patients and the NHS. A multi-year funding settlement would help underpin meaningful progress.”