UK urged to reciprocate efforts on NI protocol issues as deal on medicines flow announced

EU move to secure supply of medicines in North proves protocol is ‘flawed’, DUP says

The vice-president of the European Commission has urged the UK government to "reciprocate" the efforts of the European Union in ensuring "stability and predictability" in Northern Ireland, as agreement was reached between the EU and UK to secure the supply of medicines into the North.

Maros Sefcovic announced in Brussels on Friday proposed laws to assist the free flow of medicines from Britain into Northern Ireland, in a move it said would create momentum to resolve other disputes over Brexit's Irish Sea border.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said he hopes the agreement could "act as a catalyst for solving the other protocol issues in the new year", however, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Jeffrey Donaldson, said the move proves the protocol is "flawed".

Talks on the Northern Ireland protocol – the part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement that avoided a hard border on the island of Ireland by placing a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea – are set to resume in January when efforts will intensify to resolve the areas of dispute.


Welcoming the move announced on Friday, Mr Coveney said: “Access to medicines has been at the top of my agenda. The plan announced today turns commitment into solutions.

“By ensuring the continued long-term supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and in addressing other supply issues for Ireland, it provides reassurance to people across the island that they will continue to have access to the medicines they need.”

Mr Coveney said: “I firmly believe the protocol will work, if we allow it, with flexibility and pragmatism. A positive outcome to the current talks remains our key objective.

“I welcome the fact that the EU and the UK have agreed on the importance of continuing talks in the new year. This is the best way to bring about substantive progress and find durable solutions to the practical problems faced by people and business in Northern Ireland.”

Following the announcement, Mr Sefcovic said he hoped there would be a "gear change" in the wider negotiations with the UK on protocol issues next month.

“Today is a further demonstration of the EU’s unwavering commitment to stability and predictability for citizens and businesses in Northern Ireland and I urge the UK government to reciprocate our efforts,” he said.

“The EU and the UK are partners with shared values and shared global challenges so it is time to change gear and bring our partnership to the level on which it belongs.”

‘Flawed protocol’

Mr Donaldson, said, however, that the EU’s proposals regarding medicines showed “that the Northern Ireland protocol was and is flawed” and while it was a “step in the right direction”, it was “not far enough”.

The DUP and other unionist parties in Northern Ireland are opposed to the Northern Ireland protocol because they argue it causes difficulties for trade and the supply of goods including medicines and undermines the North’s constitutional position as part of the UK.

Mr Donaldson said Brussels "should have no role in deciding Northern Ireland's access to medicines" and claimed this was "another blatant breach" of the Belfast Agreement.

He said his party was seeking meetings with medicine suppliers to gauge the impact but warned that “given the EU still seeks to retain an element of control over medicines we expect the latest announcement by the EU to still leave significant problems for our constituents”.

‘Real progress’

Sinn Féin junior minister Declan Kearney welcomed the EU’s announcement, saying it represented “real progress which addresses the concerns relating to the continued supply of medicines across the North”.

He said that, “like everyone”, he wanted to see a resolution to the wider issues around the protocol currently under negotiation between the EU and the UK “as quickly as possible” once talks resume in the new year.

He said the progress on medicines would “undoubtedly add momentum to those talks . . . this breakthrough demonstrates that there is no issue which cannot be resolved to ensure a smooth operation of the protocol if the political will exists”.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie said that “on medicines this looks to be a step in the right direction, and we look forward to studying the full detail of what is being proposed”.

He said the changes were “testament to why the only way to ensure a replacement to the protocol is through engagement” and it would be “through further negotiations, rather than threats, that the outstanding issues will be dealt with”. – Additional reporting PA

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times