The UK has welcomed a compromise today by the European Union to allow Great Britain to supply medicines to Northern Ireland, avoiding a possible shortage due to Northern Ireland Protocol trade rules.
The concession came as the UK ended talks with the EU for this year by setting out a phased solution to difficulties with implementing the protocol.
The Guardian reports that the UK's interim proposal is thought to be prompted by fears that NI’s Stormont devolved government could collapse.
While noting there had been "much less progress" on customs and other rules for moving goods between GB and NI, Brexit minister Lord Frost proposed a deal on customs declarations and checks on goods.
This includes a compromise on the UK’s demand that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) should be excluded from dispute resolution entirely, proposing instead an arbitration solution.
Overall, Lord Frost said a solution to the protocol “needs to be found urgently early next year” and in the meantime, the UK remains “ready to use the Article 16 safeguard mechanism if that is the only way to protect the prosperity and stability of Northern Ireland and its people”.
In proposals published today, Brussels said it will legislate to permit UK-approved medicines to enter NI, the FT reports.
This move is supported by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA).
In his review of recent talks today, Lord Frost said “the main area of progress” had been on medicine supply to NI, saying the EU proposals “constitute a constructive way forward”.
He tempered this remark by saying there had “been much less progress in other areas”.
In particular, he highlighted how “the burdensome customs and SPS arrangements for goods moving between GB and NI have had a chilling effect on trade, increasing costs and discouraging firms from trading within their own country”.
‘At risk’ issue
Lord Frost also picked out the arrangements for goods ‘at risk’ of entering NI and then being moved to the Republic of Ireland (an EU member state).
The UK, he said, has argued consistently for “substantively different processes for goods which all sides agree will stay in the UK and those which do not. These should cover not only goods moved directly, but also the increasing proportion of goods moved by parcel, and other kinds of movements such as pets, livestock, plants, and seeds.”
He added that there had been “some limited discussions on subsidy control” and “relatively constructive discussions on VAT and excise policy”.