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Sefcovic says EU stands united behind Northern Ireland

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European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said on October 13 the UK government should engage with European Union earnestly on the bloc’s package of enhanced opportunities. “With these proposals, I believe we could be in the homestretch when it comes to the Protocol,” he said.

“Today, the European Commission has proposed a robust package of creative, practical solutions, designed to help Northern Ireland deal with the consequences of Brexit, while further benefitting from the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland,” Sefcovic said. “If I were to label these proposed solutions, I would dub them the ‘package of enhanced opportunities.’ This is in fact our core purpose,” he added.

The VP stressed that the EU has an unwavering commitment to the people of Northern Ireland – and for this reason, to the implementation of the Protocol, which brings about unique advantages of dual access to both the UK and EU markets.

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“Ultimately, our number one priority remains to ensure that the hard-earned gains of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement – peace and stability – are protected, while avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and maintaining the integrity of the EU Single Market. Before I walk you through the details, let me underline that today’s package has the potential to make a real, tangible difference on the ground,” he said.

“The reason why I am so confident is simple. We have listen to, engaged with, and heard Northern Irish stakeholders – from political leaders to businesses and a cross-section of civic society. Our proposed solutions are a direct, genuine response to concerns they have raised. We have put a lot of hard work into this package, explored every possible angle of the Protocol, and at times, went beyond current EU law,” Sefcovic said.

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“In effect, we are proposing an alternative model for the implementation of the Protocol. On the one hand, the flow of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be facilitated for goods that are to stay in Northern Ireland,” he said, adding that on the other, robust safeguards and monitoring mechanisms should be put in place to make sure they stay in Northern Ireland.

“Now turning to our first proposal: on medicines. You may recall that during my visit to Belfast in September, I said that for my part, I would do whatever it takes to guarantee the uninterrupted long-term supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. And indeed, we have completely turned our rules upside down and inside out to find a solid solution to an outstanding challenge. That involves the EU changing its own rules on medicines,” he said.

In practice, British wholesalers of medicines will be able to continue supplying Northern Ireland from their current location in Great Britain, Sefcovic said, adding that they will not need to relocate infrastructure, including testing facilities, or regulatory functions to Northern Ireland or the European Union.

He explained that this means, for instance, that Great Britain can continue acting as a hub for the supply of generic medicines for Northern Ireland, even though it is now a third country. “We are ready to put forward a legislative proposal to this end,” he said.

“Turning to the second part of our package: the area of public, plant and animal health and the movement of sanitary and phytosanitary goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. We are talking about a significant range of retail goods that would be for sale to end consumers in Northern Ireland only. These would benefit from both simplified certification and an approximately 80-percent reduction of checks and controls required today,” Sefcovic said.

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“Let me illustrate what this means: imagine you are a Northern Irish business importing products of animal origin, like yoghurt, cheese or chickens, from Great Britain. More than 80 percent of the identity and physical checks previously required will now be removed. This will significantly ease the process for bringing food supplies from Great Britain to Northern Ireland,” the VP explained.

“Similarly, a lorry transporting different food products, like dairy, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, from Great Britain to supermarkets in Northern Ireland will now just need one certificate stating that all goods of different types, class or description meet the requirements of EU legislation. So if you are transporting a hundred different food products, only one certificate is needed instead of a hundred,” Sefcovic said.

He noted, however, for all this to work in practice, however, the UK government needs to do its part – for example, by ensuring that permanent Border Control Posts are up and running, as agreed a long time ago. “We also need specific safeguards in place, like clear labels and the ability to monitor every link of the supply chain. We are showing great flexibility but the remaining controls must be done properly – I believe, understandably – to protect the integrity of our EU Single Market. We are similarly ambitious in the third part of our package, concerning the customs area,” he said.

“Here, we propose to expand the scope of the existing scheme on ‘goods not at risk’ of entering the EU’s Single Market to a wider group of businesses and products. For example, more small and medium-sized enterprises could benefit from this scheme, while goods covered by this scheme are free of customs duties because they stay in Northern Ireland,” Sefcovic said.

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“We also propose to cut in half the customs formalities and processes that are required today for these goods. For instance, a Northern Irish car dealer ordering car parts from Great Britain will only need to provide basic information to the customs authorities, such as the invoice value of the car parts and the parties to the transaction. Once again, up to 50 percent of the current formalities will be removed. This is possible, if the right safeguards are put in place, ranging from real time access to databases, to better market surveillance, to a termination clause,” the VP explained.

Combined with the EU’s proposed solutions in the area of sanitary and phytosanitary rules, this will create a type of “Express Lane”, vastly facilitating the movement of goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, Sefcovic said.

Lastly, in response to a clear and strong demand on the ground, the EU is proposing ways to enhance the participation of Northern Irish authorities and stakeholders in the implementation of the Protocol, while fully respecting the UK’s constitutional order. “Our proposed solutions aim to improve the exchange of information by establishing structured dialogues between various stakeholders and the European Commission,” Sefcovic said, adding, “Northern Irish stakeholders would also be invited to attend some meetings of the Specialised Committees. And we also aim to create a stronger link between the Northern Ireland Assembly and the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly”.

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