Writing for The Telegraph Online DUP Deputy Leader and Peer Nigel Dodds said,
Throughout the Brexit negotiations the DUP vigorously opposed any special arrangements which would alter Northern Ireland’s constitutional position as an integral part of the United Kingdom. One of our main reasons for doing so was the desire to ensure that living standards and the flow of vital goods and services between our four nations were protected and respected. During the pandemic the benefits of this have been borne out in our unfettered access to national distribution and supply networks and the early success of the UK Covid-19 vaccination programme across all regions.
Sadly, however, this only tells half the story. The provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol mean we are always looking over our shoulder to the stuttering vaccination schemes being rolled out across the EU. That is because there is only a limited twelve-month grace period for medicines coming to NI from GB. This is due to end on 31 December 2021. From 1 January 2022, Northern Ireland will be tied to the EU’s policy - and indefinitely.
The impact of such oppressive arrangements in the future would be far-reaching. Medicines for Great Britain and Northern Ireland would be regulated under different regimes. This throws up grave dangers. It also raises a dreadful uncertainty over our vaccine supply. The Government must move swiftly to address this and remove any doubts over supply.
Setting aside the vaccine, Northern Ireland represents only around 3% of the UK’s total medicines market by volume and 98% of Department of Health supplies come from the mainland. Despite this, the Protocol could create small and segregated ‘NI-only’ pools of products, with the risk that separate labelling and anti-counterfeiting requirements will prevent medicines made to GB specifications from being sold in Northern Ireland now or at any time in the future. This would be in addition to new export controls for customs and VAT.
This system would add cost and complexity for UK manufacturers and in some cases, it simply wouldn’t be viable to supply medicines to Northern Ireland. The result would be restricted choice, higher prices, delays, supply shortages and reduced access to new and exciting trials and treatments.
Given that there is already very little direct North-South trade in medicines because of different licensing regimes - and therefore minimal threat to the EU market - these measures are yet another example of how the Protocol was championed on false pretences.
Covid-19 and the debate around vaccine supply has taught us an important lesson – that the EU will never be afraid to use the provisions of the Protocol to gain an advantage against the UK.
The invoking of Article 16 in January ended the façade that Northern Ireland is to be treated as a full and equal member of EU single market and as Brussels considers new export controls on the Covid-19 vaccine there is no guarantee that Northern Ireland will escape the fallout.
Those who fell into the trap of supporting the ‘rigorous implementation’ of the Protocol should reflect on the irreparable harm it is causing to GB to NI supply chains. They should recognise the perilous implications for patients, our pharmacies and local health services going forward.
Whilst some such as the Alliance Party, the SDLP and SF called for the ‘rigorous implementation’ of the Protocol, even they should now see its flaws and accept it must go. The European Union has used and abused us like a bargaining chip. This must end. It is time for our Government to ensure the free flow of goods such as medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. The Protocol has failed and must be replaced.
Our future medicine supply cannot be left in the hands of foreign countries who are locked in battles with drug companies, each other and their neighbours over covid-19 vaccinations. Northern Ireland should not be the victim of the crossfire.