Brexit red tape endangering vital experiments, says UK laboratory

Border hold-ups and complex new rules are causing supply shortages in laboratories that jeopardise research, says Wellcome Sanger Institute

April 14, 2021
Worker standing with road-signs as a metaphor for shortages at labs caused by border snarls and new rules.
Source: Getty
Change route: ‘We had to courier reagents as regular shipping is too unreliable’

A leading UK research centre is facing Brexit-related product shortages, higher shipping costs and stockpiling problems amid growing reports of the difficulties faced by laboratories in obtaining vital supplies.

Several labs have experienced severe difficulties in importing chemical reagents, equipment and other products in recent months even though UK universities and research institutes drew up exhaustive contingency plans before the country’s exit from the European Union in January, Times Higher Education has been told.

In some cases, supply shortages related to Brexit-related administration have been worsened by pandemic-related issues, such as the repurposing of manufacturing capacity in Belgium to aid vaccine production, one professor told THE.

Many hold-ups and additional costs encountered by the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridgeshire can be directly attributed to extra red tape arising since Brexit, said its policy lead Sarion Bowers.

“The bureaucracy we face has massively increased, and this is directly due to Brexit,” explained Dr Bowers, who added that “because of the last-minute nature of the deal, we couldn’t prepare”.

“Prior to Brexit, the only expertise we needed for import matters was on the US as they were our biggest supplier outside the EU. But now we are faced with the need to work through the processes of each member state, though it’s unclear why their processes vary so much given that they are all in the EU and should be operating the same rules,” Dr Bowers said.

The institute has experienced some product shortages caused by institutions stockpiling over fears about Covid or a no-deal Brexit, but there were also continuing problems with delivery hold-ups at customs, she added.

“We have had to courier reagents that have to be sent on dry ice from Europe because regular shipping is now too unreliable. If the dry ice has expired by the time the reagent arrives, it can’t be used,” said Dr Bowers. The costly shipping process was necessary, she continued, because a lack of such materials could have a “catastrophic” impact on experiments whose cultures would need to be frozen if supplies did not arrive on time, potentially compromising entire projects.

Exporting materials to other laboratories had also become “much more complex” because of uncertainty around the new rules, added Dr Bowers, who said the institute was considering hiring a new member of staff to handle the extra red tape and oversee the more complicated supply chains created by Brexit.

“We’ve also had to increase our stockpiling, which has led to storage issues as we have rented warehouse space off-site,” she said. “We’re struggling for storage space and are currently using our underground car park while most people are working from home.”


Print headline: Brexit red tape imperils vital experiments, says UK centre

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles

Reader's comments (1)

Fancy that - I wonder how Austrailia, New Zealand, The U.S.A. and multiple others have stocked their laboratories up until now. Perhaps the 'struggling laboratories' stuck in the past, need a fitness to practice review.