Northern Ireland Protocol will not be renegotiated says Barnier
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This week, up to 90 percent of medicines could be withdrawn from Northern Ireland due to new quality-check procedures as the Brexit grace period comes to an end. The Brexit grace period is set to end at the start of 2022 and pharmaceutical companies have raised concerns due to the lack of a clear political solution.
According to analysis from Informa Pharma Intelligence, the additional costs of implementing new regulatory procedures could threaten manufacturer’s ability to export low-cost generic drugs to Northern Ireland from within the UK.
Any potential shortage of critical drugs would be an additional consequence for Northern Ireland.
Under the terms of the Protocol, agreed as part of the 2019 Brexit withdrawal agreement, chilled meats are banned from being shipped from Britain to Northern Ireland.
When the Protocol came into force at the start of this year, a six-month grace period was put in place on the introduction of the ban on chilled meats.
By 2022, companies who wish to export from Britain to Northern Ireland will be required to have established specific batch control and release facilities that meet EU standards.
However, the Prime Minister has been urged to scrap the Protocol and trigger Article 16.
Article 16 is a safeguard clause that allows either party to take unilateral measures if applying the Protocol “leads to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist”.
During an interview with BBC Northern Ireland, Mr Johnson did not rule out triggering it.
He said the Protocol could “in principle work” but will be a case of “fixing it or ditching it”.
Mr Johnson went on to say it is “crazy” that drugs cannot be moved from one part of the UK to another.
The Prime Minister said: “The fundamental problem for us is that it is very difficult to operate in an environment where the EU system can decide when and how many checks can be carried out across the Irish Sea.
“Goods are being pointlessly interrupted, and it is crazy to have cancer drugs which you can’t move from one part of the UK to another.”
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Mr Johnson went on to say that the Protocol has “got enough leeway” for it to be applied in a “commonsense way” without creating too many checks down the Irish Sea.
The Prime Minister was asked whether he planned to trigger Article 16 during the Conservative Party’s conference next week.
But Mr Johnson simply replied: “That depends on the response from the EU.”
He told the broadcaster that he signed up to the Protocol because he has an “optimistic view of human nature and thought they (EU) would want to respect the Belfast Good Friday Agreement”.
He added the Protocol was framed to operate “free trade east to west just as much as north to south and that was very, very clear but unfortunately that is not the way it is being operated”.
The Government said the extension of the Brexit grace period would cover the import of medicines into Northern Ireland.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Under the standstill all grace periods which come under the Northern Ireland protocol have been indefinitely extended – including customs, SPS [Sanitary and phytosanitary products] and medicines.
“Though there are different original end dates for the grace periods, the extension applies to all of them.”
Trust was badly damaged in January when the EU moved to block the export of COVID-19 vaccines to Northern Ireland.
The decision was reversed but the EU’s willingness to override the Protocol using its “Article 16” emergency provisions during a health crisis caused cross-party shock.
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