Jeffrey Donaldson responds to Maros Sefcovic offer: There are more issues than just medicines needing sorted in Northern Ireland Protocol
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has responded to an EU offer to significantly resolve medicine supply difficulties to NI by pointing out that the problems with the NI Protocol are much wider than just this single problem.
The DUP leader was speaking after European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic indicated the EU could act unilaterally to guarantee the supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
Negotiations are continuing between the EU and the UK over the protocol, with Mr Sefcovic expected to talk to UK Brexit minister Lord Frost on Friday.
Giving evidence to the Stormont Executive committee on Wednesday, Mr Sefcovic urged the UK to “reciprocate” in the talks.
The post-Brexit arrangements have sparked outrage among unionists in Northern Ireland.
They say additional checks on goods arriving into the region from Great Britain are impacting trade as well as undermining Northern Ireland’s relationship with the rest of the UK.
Reacting to Mr Sefcovic’s contribution to the committee, Sir Jeffrey said on Thursday: “Whilst medicines are a very important element of dealing with the Northern Ireland Protocol, it is by far not the only issue that needs to be dealt with here.”
He also urged the UK Government to remove the protocol if agreement is not made with the EU.
“We want to see agreement so that people in Northern Ireland can have access to medicines in the way that they should. It is absolutely ridiculous that the European Union is restricting the movement of medicines for people here, especially during a pandemic,” he told media during a visit to Greater Shankill Community Council in west Belfast.
“But there are many other issues in this protocol that need to be addressed, not least the unacceptable position where goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and staying within the UK internal market are subject to customs checks.
“That is not a sustainable position and we expect the Government to act on these things.
“If agreement cannot be reached in the negotiations then the Government must do what the Government has pledged to do and that is to take the action that is necessary to fully restore Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market, and to remove the Irish Sea customs border on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.”
Meanwhile, France has formally rejected Boris Johnson’s call for the British authorities to conduct joint patrols on the beaches around Calais to deter migrants from crossing the Channel.
In a letter to Mr Johnson, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said “we cannot accept” the presence of British police officers or soldiers because it would compromise the nation’s sovereignty.
He also suggested the UK should carry out reforms of its systems to offer “legal immigration paths” for people to come to the country instead of risking the perilous crossing.
But he promised that France would examine “in good faith” some of the proposals put forward to resolve the crisis.
The UK Prime Minister sparked fury in France by publishing his letter to President Emmanuel Macron calling for further action in the wake of the tragedy which saw 27 people lose their lives while attempting to cross the Channel in November.
The bitter feud has seen reports that Mr Macron has labelled Mr Johnson a “clown” and a “knucklehead”.
But the UK Government has promised to work in “close co-operation and partnership” with France in the wake of Mr Castex’s letter.
According to Le Monde, Mr Castex wrote: “We have always accepted to examine and discuss in good faith British proposals of reinforcement and cooperation. We have accepted some, we have declined others.”
Mr Johnson had suggested Border Force officers, or failing that private security contractors, could be deployed in joint patrols.
Mr Castex sad: “We cannot accept, for example, that British police officers or soldiers patrol our coasts. It comes from our sovereignty.”
France has repeatedly turned down British requests for joint land and maritime operations in its territory. France says over 700 police and gendarmes are patrolling the area from Dunkirk to Calais.
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