Brexit: We must ‘do right by Northern Ireland’ says Davis
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Due to the Northern Ireland protocol, NI remains in the EU’s pharmaceutical regulatory system despite Brexit. However, most of NI’s medicines come from the UK, which is not. The EU has now been accused of patting itself on the back for making the move to allow Britain to freely transport medicines to one of its member countries.
The NI protocol means that goods can flow freely between the Republic of Ireland and NI, but goods arriving into the country from the rest of the UK are subject to controls and checks to ensure they comply with EU standards.
A “grace period” introduced after Brexit meant that medicines would still be able to be sent to NI without having to undergo additional EU checks.
The UK indefinitely extended this period, which was due to expire in January 2021.
However, the looming threat of import controls on NI was already having an impact on the supply of medicine, with some firms notifying Stormont’s Department of Health that they intended to stop supplying some medicines to Northern Ireland at the end of the grace period.
By the end of August 2021, the health department had been notified that 910 medicines were due to be withdrawn, with a further 2,400 at risk.
Vice-president of the European Commission Maros Šefčovič took to Twitter to praise the EU’s team for the speed of the change.
He said: “During my visit to Northern Ireland last autumn, I promised to do whatever it takes to ensure the continued supply of medicines to Northern Ireland.
“We now have a lasting solution, which was delivered in record time.”
However, many were not so impressed with the EU’s announcement, arguing the UK was forced to act to protect NI medicine with the extension of the grace period, only for the EU to praise themselves once their legislation caught up.
Matthew Robinson, Chairman of the Northern Ireland Conservatives, tweeted at his rival MP for North Down Stephen Farry: “The EU completely ignored all input from the UK to the point where we had to act unilaterally to secure access to medicines for Northern Ireland.
“Then the EU acts unilaterally after the fact & you buy their spin.”
Unionist activist Jamie Bryson said: “The EU will ‘allow’ the UK to import medicines into another part of the UK (NI).
“For how long must we put up with this colonisation & subjugation?”
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Conservative activist Aaron Rankin further expressed frustration with the EU, stating: “This display from Brussels is a classic of the genre, patting yourself on the back for doing something utterly meaningless”.
In a statement, the EU Council said that UK authorities “should be able to supply those medicinal products to patients in Northern Ireland temporarily and until a marketing authorisation is granted or refused in the Union”.
The change is permanent for Northern Ireland.
However, in the case of Cyprus, Ireland and Malta, all of which import large amounts of UK medicines, the suspension will run for three years, to allow for time for new supply chains to be formed.
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