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Statement by Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič on the state of play of discussions with the United Kingdom on the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op vrijdag 17 december 2021.

The Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland is the joint solution that the EU found with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Lord David Frost - and was ratified by the UK Parliament - to address the unique challenges that Brexit, and the type of Brexit chosen by the UK government, poses for the island of Ireland. Its aim is to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its parts, maintain peace and stability in Northern Ireland, avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, while preserving the integrity of the EU Single Market. Respecting international legal obligations is of paramount importance.

On 13 October 2021, to respond to the challenges that citizens and businesses in Northern Ireland have been experiencing because of Brexit, the European Commission put forward far-reaching bespoke arrangements with the potential to make a real difference on the ground. These solutions were brought about with the core purpose of benefitting all communities in Northern Ireland and strengthening the significant opportunities that the Protocol offers.

Since then, the EU and the UK have been engaging in intensive talks to identify jointly long-term solutions to establish predictability, stability and certainty for people and businesses in Northern Ireland. The Commission has also continued to listen to and engage with Northern Irish stakeholders - from political leaders to businesses and a cross-section of civic society.

Ensuring prosperity and stability on the island of Ireland - including by facilitating as much as possible the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland within the framework of the Protocol - has been at the heart of the Commission's tireless engagement.

That is why the Commission is today proposing a bespoke arrangement for the supply of medicines to Northern Ireland. It means that everyone in Northern Ireland will have access to the same medicines at the same time as elsewhere in the UK, while ensuring that the integrity of the EU Single Market is protected. It reflects the outcome of substantial discussions between Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič and the Cabinet Office Minister David Frost over the past six months, and takes into account the concerns raised by stakeholders during the Commission's extensive outreach.

The Commission promised that, if necessary, it would change its rules on medicines to achieve this objective. Today it delivers on that promise. This highlights the flexibility of the Protocol. Until these new arrangements are in place, existing arrangements will continue so that people in Northern Ireland have the predictability and legal certainty they need. Discussions will continue on veterinary medicines.

Extensive engagement has also taken place in other areas to find solutions to reduce significantly the processes for goods moving from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, while ensuring the protection of the EU Single Market through a number of conditions and safeguards. The EU has put forward bespoke solutions that would greatly simplify procedures for operators on the ground and therefore ease the flow of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This work covers both customs and the movement of sanitary and phytosanitary goods. We are confident that our proposals will deliver on their objectives, should the UK government reciprocate EU efforts and engage on both facilitating the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and on the safeguards needed to protect the EU Single Market.

Strengthening engagement with authorities and stakeholders in Northern Ireland to ensure that their voices are better heard in the implementation of the Protocol remains high on our agenda. We regret that the UK government has not engaged on our proposal that would give Northern Irish stakeholders a greater role in the implementation of the Protocol.

The Commission is committed to continuing work on permanent solutions in these specific areas with the view to reach a conclusive understanding with the United Kingdom. Only a long-term outlook will provide stability and predictability for citizens and businesses in Northern Ireland. The Commission notes that the bodies established by the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement can and should be relied upon to address any issues arising from the implementation of the Protocol, within its framework. Discussions will resume in early January.


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