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21 June 2017Americas

BIO 2017: David Cameron talks Brexit, Trump and genomes

“I will think about this every day until the day I die … whether there was something more we could have done to have won the [Brexit] referendum,” said former UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

Delivering the keynote speech yesterday, June 20, at the 2017 BIO International Convention, Cameron discussed the UK’s vote in June 2016 to leave the EU, the recent UK election, US President Donald Trump, and genomes.

“Britain voted for Brexit. In the US you had to do something even more striking,” joked Cameron, adding that there is an unease with globalisation.

He explained that two things must be recognised within this unease: the economic effect (“too many people have been left behind” and this needs to be recognised and acted on) and a cultural problem (the movement of people in Europe, which is more than people have been prepared to cope with).

When questioned over current UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s choice to call a snap general election in June this year, Cameron noted that May was trying to do “something very sensible” but that it may make Brexit more difficult.

The election ended in a hung Parliament, with the Conservative Party winning 318 seats and Labour winning 262. At the time of writing, the Conservatives have yet to secure a majority via a coalition deal with another party.

So how should Brexit be dealt with? The UK should stay as close as possible to the EU, Cameron said.

“Whereas we were reluctant tenants, we should be happy neighbours. Britain isn’t leaving Europe. It needs to work with its friends, neighbours and allies.”

Soon after Cameron was elected for the second time, the European Union Referendum Act 2015 was introduced in Parliament to kickstart the referendum process.

“What I tried to do was provide the best possible chance for Britain to forge a future within the EU.”

Britain was always the odd man out, he said, adding that the UK was always a “reluctant” member of what was “quite a political project”.

“If Britain was a small country on the edge of Europe that could be pushed around, I would worry. But we have the ability to negotiate a fair outcome.”

Boosting the life sciences

Cameron also spoke about his late son, Ivan, who was born with Ohtahara Syndrome, a rare brain disorder which left him with epilepsy and cerebral palsy.

“It had a big influence on my thinking about science and discovery and life sciences,” he explained.

He added that there’s so “much more we could do to help progress in genetics, genomics and drug discovery, and in the understanding of these things”.

This was one of the reasons Cameron introduced the 100,000 Genomes Project, which aims to decode 100,000 human genomes.

“We had a unique chance in Britain because we could combine a data bank of genomes together with the National Health Service,” said Cameron.

“As Prime Minister, I always tried to boost the life sciences area because I thought it was a key area of economic growth, but also it was on the cusp of many exciting discoveries.”

Trump in power

Cameron admitted that he was worried about Trump as a Presidential candidate, because of his idea that NATO was obsolete, plans for a confrontational relationship with China, and his plans for a wall between the US and Mexico.

But since Trump came into power, a lot of these have changed—the relationship with China will be cooperative, he says he supports NATO and will invest in it, and the wall has become a “fence with elements of a wall”.

“The one I still worry about is protectionism. We both tried this in the 1930s; it caused mass unemployment and misery.

“Having sat around that table at the G-20, if Britain, America and Germany aren’t standing up for free trade, the rest will put in protectionist systems.”

The 2017 BIO International Convention is taking place in San Diego from June 19 to 22.

Today’s stories:

Section 101 raises fundamental question: 3M

Panellists tackle patent concerns after Brexit

FBI agent and lawyers provide trade secret tips

Industry at a crossroads over section 101

Pfizer and Takeda help to tackle Africa cancer crisis

Academic patents gave $1.3tn to US output

Teva must pay $235m to GSK

Hospira sued for infringing allergic injection patent

Google’s parent company invests $300m in biotech

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