EU-UK fails to agree on new rules for medicine in Northern Ireland – POLITICO

LONDON – The fifth week of EU-UK negotiations on post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland ended without the advances in medicine and customs control Brussels had hoped for.

Despite an attempt by the European Commission to intensify the negotiations, the latest round ended with the two sides still far apart.

The EU had this week wanted to agree on how to guarantee the supply of drugs to Northern Ireland from the UK in the hope that this would act as a catalyst for solutions in other areas.

The Commission expressed frustration at the lack of concrete proposals from the United Kingdom in response to its October package, which Brussels considers a significant step, but London says it is insufficient.

“It is important that the latest change in tone now leads to common tangible solutions within the framework of the protocol,” said Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič in a statement after meeting with his British counterpart David Frost.

Medicine was an area that seemed more constructive, but a British official said “there are still problems to be solved.”

In October, the Commission confirmed that it would amend EU law to allow the UK to continue to act as a hub for the supply of generic medicines to Northern Ireland – not possible under the current protocol. The proposal removes the need for UK-based pharmaceutical manufacturers to move infrastructure to Northern Ireland, which some had feared would deter companies from offering their medicines in the region.

However, the UK believes that the EU plan does not find a solution for certain drugs, such as new cancer drugs, which must be licensed by the European Medicines Agency before they can be sold in Northern Ireland. Instead, London has proposed removing all medicines from the scope of the protocol.

“Any acceptable solution must ensure that medicines are available at the same time and on the same basis throughout the UK,” Frost said.

Britain’s call for more concessions in this area fuels impatience in Brussels, and Šefčovič warns that this is “a real test of political goodwill.”

Brussels wants to implement an agreement in this area before the end of the year, during which a grace period allowing medicines to flow between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland will expire.

Talks have also hit a wall on customs papers and food security controls, so-called sanitary and phytosanitary controls.

The EU and the UK continued to exchange threats, albeit in a much less belligerent tone. Earlier, the British Minister, Michael Gove, said “we are convinced that we will be able to make progress without [triggering Article 16], ”A reference to the legal mechanism that would unilaterally suspend parts of the agreement temporarily.

London remains under pressure from Northern Ireland’s unionists to suspend the protocol if Brussels continues to demand controls on goods arriving from the UK to the region’s ports. Democratic Unionist Party leader Jeffrey Donaldson accused the EU of “reluctance” and said negotiators were still “joking around the edges.”

Discussions continue next week in London, where Šefčovič and Frost will once again take stock on Friday.

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