No checks on medicines from Britain to NI, under Commission proposals

The EU has moved to ensure that medicines will continue to be available in Northern Ireland at the same time as in the rest of the UK, under new proposals published on Friday. [SHUTTERSTOCK/VIEWFINDER]

The European Union has moved to ensure that medicines will continue to be available in Northern Ireland at the same time as in the rest of the UK, under new proposals published on Friday (17 December).

Medicines entering NI from GB will not need additional labelling or testing, as part of what European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič described as “a lasting solution” based on the EU’s “genuine commitment to the people of NI”.

The Commission says that a ‘bridging solution’ will allow any new medicine authorised in the UK to be supplied to Northern Ireland, until the relevant authorisation is also given in the EU.

No manufacturing authorisation or import license will be required for bringing medicines into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, and medicines will be able to use a single pack and leaflet without the need for extra packaging.

Meanwhile, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta, who also import a large portion of their medicines from the UK, will be able to apply the same regime for a three year period.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the proposals on medicines should “provide reassurance to people across the island that they will continue to have access to the medicines they need” and expressed hope that it could “act as a catalyst for solving the other protocol issues early in the new year”.

The unilateral move by the EU, which simplifies part of the Northern Ireland protocol, comes after EU and UK negotiators completed their final round talks of the year without brokering a compromise on the protocol to ease the administrative burden on businesses in Northern Ireland and supply chain problems caused by the protocol.

Talks will resume in the new year and UK officials have warned that progress should be much more intensive early next year to avoid running into the Northern Ireland assembly elections next May.

UK officials have welcomed the EU’s medicines proposals but complained that little progress had been made elsewhere.

In a statement, UK Brexit Minister David Frost, played down the prospect of a wider compromise agreement beyond medicines, saying that “I do not believe that the negotiations are yet close to delivering outcomes which can genuinely solve the problems presented by the Protocol.”

Frost added that it was “disappointing that it has not been possible to reach either a comprehensive or worthwhile interim agreement this year. A solution needs to be found urgently early next year”.

However, Šefčovič remarked that the protocol, which keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods, “has the flexibility to work on the ground”.

London has softened its position on the role of the European Court of Justice in recent weeks.

UK officials say they are comfortable with the Luxembourg-based court interpreting and adjudicating on EU law and decisions, but not in settling disputes between the parties. Instead, London believes that international arbitration should be used to settle any disputes on the protocol.

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