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Cancer fighting drugs, fuel and fresh food imperilled by No Deal exit from EU, claims Islington Council leader

PUBLISHED: 11:14 03 September 2019 | UPDATED: 11:20 03 September 2019

Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council, speaking at a Fair Futures Commission meeting at Arts and Media School Islington. Photo by Em Fitzgerald

Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council, speaking at a Fair Futures Commission meeting at Arts and Media School Islington. Photo by Em Fitzgerald

Em Fitzgerald

People in Islington could struggle to access life saving cancer drugs, fuel and fresh food if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal on Halloween, warns the council leader.

Councillors on the audit committee met for an update on Islington's "no deal" exit preparations last night, where they discussed a "risk register" outlining the possible consequences leaving the EU on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms could have on departments and services.

Ahead of the meeting, Richard Watts said the "three big worries for the general public" are posed by disruption to the supply chains for food, medicine and fuel, which could impact the availability of fresh, healthy produce for school dinners, plus methadone for recovering drug addicts and radioactive isotopes for cancer sufferers.

He told the Gazette: "This is not a political document. It has been put together by council officers on the basis of the best advice they have been given by civil servants, so this is absolutely not fear mongering. [...]

"I think the whole thing just shows the absolute, total irresponsibility of the government playing down 'no deal' to the extent that it punishes cancer patients who aren't going to get the treatment their doctors' recommend. I think the government is explaining these things in private but you don't see government ministers going on the TV telling people about the massive risks to them from a no deal Brexit."

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The council is working with its school dinners contractor Caterlink to minimise the risks posed by a "lack of food supply" leading to a "reduction in food standards". The town hall is also planning for fuel shortages in the event of delays at ports, and Cllr Watts says the council is "comfortable it will be able to access fuel for the vehicles it needs" but fears there could be "challenges for residents".

The risk register also warns a shortage of medicine could lead to increased referrals, adding that Camden and Islington Foundation Trust might need council "staff to support acute wards if there is an increase in people becoming mentally unwell due to medicine shortages" and mental health trust teams "could also be under pressure because of a lack of beds and worsening illness in the community".

These "critical workers" would need "access to fuel for transport".

Another risk of the UK leaving on WTO trading terms, is that there is "no requirement for [European Economic Area] regulating authorities to share details of sanctions or restrictions on teachers, leading to a potential safeguarding risk".

The council is also preparing for a rise in hate crime, as seen after the Brexit referendum result, and any civil unrest associated with a lack of fuel or food. It is not currently stockpiling supplies.

Cllr Watts says these are "scary times" and has warned against a repeat of "another Windrush" scandal for EU citizens, urging anyone who has their applications for settled status denied to contact the council. So far some 11,000 EU citizens have applied for settled status, including 100 council staff.

He also believes "it's time for another referendum" on whether the UK should leave the EU, as people weren't fully informed of the risks the last time around and deserve a "final say". Cllr Watts would campaign for remain in such a scenario, as he did in 2016.

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