Britain rebuffs Brussels over latest Northern Ireland Protocol proposals

·3 min read
Loyalist band members and supporters make their way through Newtownards town centre during an anti-Northern Ireland Protocol protest rally on June 18 - Charles McQuillan/Getty
Loyalist band members and supporters make their way through Newtownards town centre during an anti-Northern Ireland Protocol protest rally on June 18 - Charles McQuillan/Getty

Britain has told the European Union that new proposals from Brussels aimed at resolving the standoff over the Northern Ireland Protocol do not go far enough.

On Monday, the EU issued a paper which suggested that checks on over-the-counter medicines destined for Northern Ireland could be conducted by UK authorities.

Brussels said this 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.

However, a UK government spokesman said the proposal “remains the same as the one [the EU] sent to us in late June” and does not address outstanding “issues and concerns”.

They added: “The EU’s proposal was a welcome start but it would be complex to operate, onerous and would not deal at all with those medicines, such as new cancer drugs, which under current arrangements must be licensed by the European Medicines Agency in Northern Ireland.

“That is why we have proposed in our Command Paper that the simplest way forward in order to avoid these problems in future is to remove medicines from the scope of the protocol altogether.”

Current rules under the protocol mean that Northern Ireland essentially stays in line with the EU's pharmaceutical regulatory system while Great Britain does not.

Last month, the EU allowed for a grace period on checks on medicines crossing the border until the end of the year, pending a broader proposal designed to resolve the issue which the European Commission will put forward in the autumn.

Brussels insisted Monday’s offer is a significant and creative solution and amounts to “the EU changing its own rules”.

Maroš Šefčovič, the EU commissioner in charge of relations with the UK, said: “We have spared no effort in trying to mitigate some of the challenges that have arisen in the implementation of the protocol.”

Additionally, the new EU proposal outlined where Brussels feels it can adapt the protocol on the issue of livestock crossing the Irish Sea. It relates mainly to livestock being moved back and forth to visit agricultural shows in Great Britain. Brussels says livestock should be allowed to move back and forth on a single ear tag.

The UK Government said that the fact Northern Irish livestock would have to all be compliant with the same health status outlined by the EU means farmers in Northern Ireland will have a commercial disadvantage.

The proposal from Brussels comes the week after the EU rejected Lord Frost’s plan to renegotiate large swathes of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The proposal included an end to the European Court of Justice being the arbiter of the protocol, suggesting an independent body take charge instead.

“It simply does not fit with the reality of the situation to have laws imposed and policed by institutions outside UK territory,” Lord Frost told the House of Lords last week.

UK government ministers are lobbying for Brussels to indefinitely delay customs checks due to come into effect in Northern Ireland at various different dates in the autumn and winter once grace periods end.

Until now, the British Government has held off invoking Article 16 of the protocol, which would mean unilaterally ignoring its obligations under the deal.

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