The EU has set out changes to its medicines, pets and livestock standards to ease trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, a week after the UK threatened to pull the plug on the Brexit deal.
The European Commission first announced the changes in June, after a row over an impending ban on sausages, mince and other chilled meat sent from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, the region must abide by EU single market rules, but the extra red tape has threatened supplies of generic drugs and affected people travelling with guide dogs.
Many Irish distributors are also dependent on medicine supplies from the UK, particularly generics and over-the-counter drugs. “These solutions have an unambiguous common denominator — they were brought about with the core purpose of benefitting the people in Northern Ireland,” said Brexit commissioner and EC vice-president Maros Sefcovic.
“Ultimately, our work is about ensuring that the hard-earned gains of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement — peace and stability in Northern Ireland — are protected, while avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and maintaining the integrity of the EU single market.”
The arrangements are expected to allow guide dogs to move from England, Scotland and Wales to Northern Ireland without the need for animal health certificates that are now required for pets.
Other changes to loosen red tape are expected to result in less frequent changing of tags on the ears of livestock, and speeding up moves to allow certain plants to be imported to Northern Ireland from GB.
Last week the UK accused the EU of being “rigid” and “inflexible” in the way it applies the Northern Ireland Protocol, and threatened to pull a safeguard clause that would suspend it.
The Government is angry that trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK has slowed, while cross-border trade with the Republic has surged.
London also blames the protocol for political instability and protests in Northern Ireland since Brexit took effect on January 1.
In a ‘command paper’ on the protocol published last week, the UK said it wants reduced customs checks on goods bound only for Northern Irish customers, recognition of UK manufacturing standards and an end to the role of the European Court of Justice in policing the protocol.
The EU move comes just days after the UK said it would scrap some paperwork requirements on EU wine imports, cutting 10 pence (around 12 cents) on each bottle of wine brought in to the country.
Yesterday, Sinn Fein MLA Caoimhe Archibald urged DUP Economy Minister Gordon Lyons to act to “take advantage of the special economic circumstances the protocol affords businesses in the north”.
“I have met with businesses who are keen to build on the unique situation the protocol affords the north in terms of having access to both the EU single market and the British internal market,” she said.
“This makes businesses in the north ideally placed to deal with both Britain and the EU and could help them attract investment. We now need to see the Economy Minister building on this in practical terms and using this special economic advancement in order to help firms secure investment.”