EU move a step in the right direction but not far enough – Donaldson

An EU proposal to change its own laws to ensure the free flow of medicines between Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a “step in the right direction” but “not far enough”, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic announced the proposed laws over medicines in a move he said he hoped would create momentum to resolve other disputes over Brexit’s Irish Sea border.

However UK Brexit Minister Lord Frost expressed disappointment that solutions to wider issues linked to the Northern Ireland Protocol had not yet been resolved.

Talks between the UK and EU are set to resume in January when efforts will intensify to resolve the areas of dispute.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson welcomed the announcement on Friday but said it still left “significant problems for our constituents”.

“It is shocking that in the middle of a pandemic there is uncertainty over our access to medicines because of the NI Protocol,” he said.

“Brussels should have no role in deciding Northern Ireland’s access to medications.

“This is another blatant breach of the Belfast Agreement. A foreign power should have no role in dictating to this part of the United Kingdom whether we can access medicines at the same time as the rest of the United Kingdom.

“Our constituents should be able to access the same drugs at the same time as the rest of the United Kingdom.

“We are seeking meetings with medicine suppliers to gauge the impact of this decision but given the EU still seeks to retain an element of control over medicines we expect the latest announcement by the EU to still leave significant problems for our constituents.”

However Sinn Fein Brexit spokesman Declan Kearney said the announcement is “very welcome and represents real progress”.

He said: “Clearly continued supply of medicines for thousands of patients who depend on life-saving medication is critical, so the fact that there will be no change or disruption will be welcomed across our society.

“The protocol limits the impact of Brexit and while imperfect, it is very much critical to safeguarding our economy and people’s livelihoods, and has been shown to do so over recent months.

“On the wider EU and British Government talks on how to make the protocol work better, I, like everyone else, wants to see a resolution as quickly as possible when talks resume in the new year.

“Today’s progress on medicines will undoubtedly add momentum to those talks, which is a development we in Sinn Fein welcome. This breakthrough demonstrates that there is no issue which cannot be resolved to ensure a smooth operation of the protocol if the political will exists.”

Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie said the development “looks to be a step in the right direction”, adding: “We look forward to studying the full detail of what is being proposed.

“However, it is difficult not to reflect on the fact that this problem should not exist in the first place as medicines should not form part of the protocol. It is important that solutions are future-proofed for the long term.

“We have met with UK and EU representations throughout this process to make sure our concerns were understood. Just this week we met with Lord Frost twice and Maros Sefcovic yesterday.

“The changes we are seeing are testament to why the only way to ensure a replacement to the protocol is through engagement.

“We were told that the EU had reached their bottom line and any further changes to the protocol were impossible.

“But we have demonstrated that this is not the case and we will continue to negotiate for further changes on trade, the role of the European Court of Justice and the democratic deficit faced by Northern Ireland.

“It will be through further negotiations, rather than threats, that the outstanding issues will be dealt with.”