EU medicine plan is short-term fix to one of worst aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol

News Letter editorial on Friday April 8 2022:

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The European Parliament vote to back EU Commission plans to exclude medicines from checks as they cross the Irish Sea is, of course, welcome.

Such checks on health drug movements within the United Kingdom would be an unpardonable consequence of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The very fact that the commission and MEPs have acted in this way is a further reflection of the results that have come from the recent (now paused) UK pressure on the EU over the Irish Sea border. It is also fresh proof of how misguided some Stormont political parties were to have called for rigorous implementation of the protocol.

MEPs said that their decision to endorse the commission plan ensured “legal certainty and predictability” for long-term supply of medicines into NI from Great Britain.

But this is wrong. While the development provides a short-term solution to one of the worst aspects of the protocol, it does not give any long-term legal certainty.

On the contrary, it is another clever EU bid to retain the legal gains of the protocol by disguising the scale of both its practical and constitutional impact.

While European politicians are happy now to be flexible, they could easily in future revert to a more by-the-letter-of-the-law approach.

The disastrous damage that the protocol does to Northern Ireland’s position within the Union becomes ever clearer with time.

As Lord Dodds writes opposite, by last summer the government seemed to understand the shocking scale of Boris Johnson’s 2019 concession to a delighted Leo Varadkar, and it developed a plan in its Command Paper to take significant action to overhaul the protocol.

Now it seems that it is hoping the election will pass and that unionists will fold and accept the protocol as immovable.

We now have an opportunity for unionist candidates to make clear that they will not in fact do this if they get elected.