Maroš Šefčovič says Protocol tweaks will massively reduce checks and ensure security of medicine supply

The European Commission has announced new arrangements to ameliorate the difficulties Brexit has caused in moving some goods from Britain to the north of Ireland.

Wednesday, 13th October 2021, 5:59 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th October 2021, 6:00 pm
Maroš Šefčovič, speaking this evening.

European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, speaking this afternoon, said: “I have listened to and engaged with Northern Irish stakeholders. Today's proposals are our genuine response to their concerns.

"We have put a lot of hard work into them to make a tangible change on the ground, in response to the concerns raised by the people and businesses of Northern Ireland. We are looking forward to engaging earnestly and intensively with the UK government, in the interest of all communities in Northern Ireland.”

The EC says today's package proposes further flexibilities in the area of food, plant and animal health, customs, medicines and engagement with stakeholders.

It proposes a different model for the implementation of the Protocol, in which the flow of goods between Great Britain and the north - in respect of goods destined to stay in the north - is facilitated to a significant extent. This facilitation is enabled by a series of safeguards and increased market surveillance to ensure the goods do not move into the EU's Single Market.

Mr.Šefčovič outlined 'solutions in four key areas' and said the EC has today approved four non-papers (i.e. non-legislative texts) covering the following areas:

1: A bespoke solution for Northern Ireland on food, plant and animal health (i.e. 'Sanitary and Phytosanitary issues') – leading to approximately an 80% reduction in checks.

It stated: "This solution would result in a Northern Ireland-specific solution in the area of public, plant and animal health (i.e. 'SPS'). In practice, this means vastly simplified certification and a significant reduction (approximately 80%) of official checks for a wide range of retail goods moving from Great Britain to be consumed in Northern Ireland. This is in addition to the solutions that the EU put forward on 30 June, which facilitates the movement of live animals from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

"In order to protect the integrity of the Single Market, this would be subject to a number of conditions and safeguards, such as the UK delivering on its commitment to complete the construction of permanent Border Control Posts, specific packaging and labelling indicating that the goods are for sale only in the UK, and reinforced monitoring of supply chains.

"In addition, safeguards would include a rapid reaction mechanism to any identified problem in relation to individual products or traders, and unilateral measures by the EU in case of failure by UK competent authorities or the trader concerned to react to or remedy an identified problem. These specific conditions and safeguards would provide a robust monitoring and enforcement mechanism that would make a significant reduction of checks possible without endangering the integrity of the Single Market."

2: Flexible customs formalities to facilitate the movement of goods from Great Britain to the north – 50% reduction in paperwork

It states: "This solution consists of measures that will simplify and make customs formalities and processes easier. It will cut in half the documentation currently needed for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. This is also subject to safeguards, such as the UK committing to providing full and real-time access to IT systems, a review and termination clause, as well as the UK customs and market surveillance authorities implementing appropriate monitoring and enforcement measures.

"When taken together, the bespoke solutions for both SPS and customs rules will create a type of “Express Lane” for the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, while at the same providing for a robust monitoring and enforcement mechanism in order to protect the integrity of the Single Market."

3: Enhanced engagement with Northern Ireland Stakeholders and Authorities

It states: "These proposals aim to improve the exchange of information with stakeholders and authorities in Northern Ireland with regard to the implementation of the Protocol and relevant EU measures. This would make the application of the Protocol more transparent, while at the same time respecting the UK's constitutional order.

"This solution consists of establishing structured dialogues between Northern Ireland stakeholders (authorities, civic society and businesses) and the Commission. This would involve the creation of structured groups with the participation of experts to discuss relevant EU measures that are important for the implementation of the Protocol. Northern Irish stakeholders would also be invited to attend some meetings of the Specialised Committees.

"It will also create a stronger link between the Northern Ireland Assembly and the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly. A website will also be set up to show in a clear and comprehensive way the EU legislation applicable in Northern Ireland."

4: Uninterrupted security of supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland for the long-term

It states: "The result of this proposal will be that pharmaceutical companies in Great Britain – when supplying the Northern Irish market – can keep all their regulatory functions where they are currently located. This means, for instance, that Great Britain can continue acting as a hub for the supply of generic medicines for Northern Ireland, even though it is now a third country. In this way, the long-term supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland can be ensured.

"The Commission will hold further discussions with the UK and stakeholders before finalising its proposal for amending existing rules. This proposal involves the EU changing its own rules on medicines."

Commission experts are now due to travel to London to begin discussing the four non-papers in detail with the UK government. This will be the start of a period of intense discussions with the UK government over the coming weeks. Vice-President Šefčovič will meet Lord Frost on Friday in Brussels, the EC stated.