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.
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said she hoped that the “goodwill” created by the announcement would be applied to other issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol.
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.”
Ms O’Neill said the announcement from the EU “set the right tone” for other issues which needed to be resolved.
She added: “I have met with David Frost today, I have made it very clear that I welcome that progress has been made, I welcome the fact that we’re not on a cliff edge now in terms of this crucial issue of medicines but that goodwill now needs to apply to the other issues that need to be resolved.
“The protocol is here to stay and for those that are dishonest enough to say it’s going to be done away with, that’s a falsehood. The protocol is here to stay and what we need now is pragmatic solutions to make it work.
“The medicines issue is an example of how whenever people apply that pragmatism we actually can get a resolution.”
Ms O’Neill also urged the DUP to “stand back from the predictable but reckless rhetoric”, with reference to Sir Jeffrey’s threat to withdraw his party’s ministers from the Executive if issues with the protocol are not resolved.
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.”