Lord Frost provides update on Northern Ireland protocol
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Brussels and London are at loggerheads on how to resolve the issue of checks on over-the-counter medicines destined for Northern Ireland due to the Northern Ireland Protocol as well as future implementation of the post-Brexit trading arrangements due to trade flow issues. The Protocol, part of the Brexit divorce deal agreed by the UK and Brussels, effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods.
This means checks take place on goods including medicines arriving from the UK to Northern Ireland, but significant trade disruption has occurred as a result.
Lord Frost and EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic are due to have talks next week in a bid to resolve the deadlock after the Brexit Minister presented a Command Paper for consideration to the EU last month.
But Eurocrats are still developing a plan to put to member states over medicine checks despite the UK Governments objections and calls for them to be stripped from the Protocol.
The plan would involve regulatory compliance functions, such as quality control tests for new medicines destined solely for the Northern Ireland market to be permanently conducted in the UK.
This would be instead of requiring companies to set up these procedures in Northern Ireland or the EU after existing grace periods expire in December 2021.
But Brussels says the UK Government would have to put specific safeguards in place to ensure those products did not go beyond Northern Ireland into the EU’s internal market and fully apply EU medicines legislation on quality, safety, and batch testing and release when approving goods for use in Northern Ireland.
Ahead of the talks, due to take place next week, the UK said the EU’s approach at continuing to press ahead with the plan was “pathetic.”
A Whitehall source close to the negotiations, added: “We still make clear that medicines should be completely removed from the scope of the Protocol completely.
“It’s pathetic the EU is pushing ahead preparing plans for the Council and Parliament when we have raised concerns.”
Mr Sefcovic’s will undertake a two-day visit to Northern Ireland on Thursday and Friday alongside Lord Frost.
The British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA) has warned that four out of five drugs used by the NHS will not be allowed into Northern Ireland by January 2022 if a solution is not reached.
Chief Executive Mark Samuels warned the situation could “undoubtedly lead to a crisis” in the supply of generic medicines.
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Mr Samuel told the Irish Independent that in the absence of a “stable long term agreement” between Brussels and London, many companies within the BGMA “have been forced to put on notice over 2,000 medicines for withdrawal from Northern Ireland”.
Doug Beattie MLA, leader of the Ulster Unionist party, said the UK Government needed to fulfil its promise to ensure that all medicines are taken off the protocol checklist.
He added: “The issue of the provision of medicines affects every man, woman and child in Northern Ireland.
“There is no immediate shortage of medicines but if action isn’t taken now that is exactly what we could be facing come the new year.”
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Meanwhile, more than 50 business chiefs have signed a letter urging both the EU and the UK to find a “pragmatic” way to ease trade barriers between Britain and Northern Ireland.
The letter was signed by the Institute of Directors, the Confederation of British Industry in Northern Ireland, members of the northern committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
It added: “The east-west movement of goods is critical to consumption and production in Northern Ireland.
“Friction and barriers to the movement of goods have impeded normal trade capacity and added to inflationary dynamics.
“Therefore, we call upon the UK and EU to deliver proportionate outcomes that aid the peace process through resolving the east-west trade relationship.
“Business representatives, who are critically aware of emerging tensions, have advanced pragmatic solutions regarding unique circumstances that should be considered in the next round of discussions.”
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