Brexit: EU is playing ‘hardball’ with Northern Ireland says Hoey
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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 Protocol. 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 on goods being sent from Great Britain into the single market in some cases could result in prohibitions on certain products that do not comply with EU rules, causing disruption to medicines flowing from the UK to Northern Ireland.
A briefing paper produced by Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann revealed he had “deep concerns about the risk to patient health and maintaining vital medical supplies” as 910 medicines are due to be withdrawn from sale in the UK constituent country.
Mr Swann’s briefing paper says the planned withdrawals “cover all classifications of medicines, including prescription-only medicines, pharmacy and general sales list medicines”.
The Ulster Unionist Party MLA has backed Lord Frost’s calls for medicines to be completely removed from the scope of the Protocol, with an extension of a grace period until this can be agreed.
But the European Commission, who set out a solution in a non-paper earlier this summer, said any extension would require the UK to meet several conditions – including ensuring all drugs comply with European Medicines Agency standards and that all packets destined for Northern Ireland are labelled as such.
Brussels’ proposal would involve Eurocrats changing their own legislation.
Both sides are currently holding technical negotiations in a bid to resolve the issue, but Express.co.uk understands very little movement has been made.
A Whitehall source close to the ongoing negotiations indicated UK officials were due to hold discussions with colleagues in the Northern Ireland Executive next week alongside EU counterparts.
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“We are keen to see a resolution as soon as possible,” the source added.
A UK Government spokesperson said they would approach discussions with “ambition, imagination, genuine flexibility, and compromise.”
Colm Gildernew, Chairman of the Stormont health committee said European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic would be visiting Belfast next week.
The Sinn Fein MLA said: “I am also aware that Maros Sefcovic will be here next week to discuss issues arising from this.
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“We will be meeting with all the Executive parties and with the First and Deputy First Ministers.”
He added: “The British negotiator David Frost is also coming, and I think those conversations are important.”
Brussels this morning insisted the offer from the European Commission to the UK would “mitigate some of the challenges” that have occurred following the implementation of the Protocol in relation to medicines.
A Brussels source added they would be “pressing ahead” with the draft plan that would be put to the Council and Parliament before the Autumn despite the UK Government’s objections.
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