The EU has offered to change aspects of the Northern Ireland protocol relating to medicine, following weeks of negotiations with the British Government.
Currently, Northern Ireland remains in the EU’s pharmaceutical regime; checks on medicines imported from Great Britain are due to begin in January and certain firms have said they will no longer supply the north because of the extra work involved.
Unionists have warned that people’s access to healthcare will be disadvantaged and have demanded changes before the end of the grace period.
European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič has now offered to reduce the paperwork required for pharmaceutical companies:
"The European Commission is delivering in the form of a legislative proposal, ensuring that everyone in Northern Ireland has access to the same medicines at the same time as in the rest of the United Kingdom," Vice President Šefčovič said on Friday.
"This will be possible because all regulatory functions of pharmaceutical companies supplying medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland can remain in the UK, while no additional batch testing, manufacturing and license authorisation or separate packaging is required.”
We delivered on medicines.
Confident that 🇪🇺 proposals on customs and SPS goods will also deliver. But the UK govt should engage on both facilitating GB-NI movement of goods and on the safeguards to protect our Single Market.
My assessment of 🇪🇺🇬🇧 talks: https://t.co/pS7MONokF4 pic.twitter.com/QlrJLhCafH
— Maroš Šefčovič🇪🇺 (@MarosSefcovic) December 17, 2021
Ireland and the two Commonwealth countries in the EU - Malta and Cyprus - will also be able to seek out derogations in order to access medicine from Britain.
Britain’s negotiator Lord Frost gave the proposals a cautious welcome:
“The EU’s proposals… could constitute a constructive way forward, and we are willing to look at them positively, but as we have not been able to scrutinise the texts in the necessary detail we are not yet able to make that judgement with full confidence.”
However, London wants medicines removed from the protocol altogether on the grounds that, "the provision of health services is an essential state function and that Northern Ireland medicines are overwhelmingly sourced from elsewhere in the UK."
I have spoken to @MarosSefcovic today and I have now issued a statement on the state of play in the talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol. The negotiations will resume early in the New Year.
The full text is here: https://t.co/rhnWL9Dvje pic.twitter.com/g2Am1F3SYr
— David Frost (@DavidGHFrost) December 17, 2021
Lord Frost also said that little progress has been made on other, more contentious aspects of the protocol. Britain wants urgent changes on custom checks and says without agreement it would have, “a chilling effect on trade, increasing costs and discouraging firms from trading within their own country.”
London has previously said that if no agreement is reached then it could invoke Article 16 - a clause that allows either side to suspend aspects of the protocol.
Main image: A nurse prepares liquid medicine at a neonatal intensive care unit. Picture by: Tang Dehong/Costfoto/Sipa USA).