Brexit & Beyond newsletter

22 January 2024

Welcome to the 22 January 2024 Brexit & Beyond newsletter

The Northern Ireland Assembly was recalled last week. The Lords Sub-Committee on the Windsor Framework heard evidence about the implications of EU rules on veterinary medicines for supply to Northern Ireland. NI’s participation in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) was debated in the House of Lords. The first phase of new UK border controls will be implemented next week. Next Monday (29 January) a three day hearing will start on the NI Human Rights Commission’s challenge to the UK’s Illegal Migration Act.


Northern Ireland Assembly recall

The Northern Ireland Assembly was recalled on 17 January 2024 following a petition from Sinn Féin, backed by the SDLP. The first item of business was to elect a Speaker. No nomination received cross-community consent and therefore no further business could take place. The recall took place a day before strikes involving over 100,000 public sector workers. Under current legislation, the deadline to elect a Speaker to the Northern Ireland Assembly and establish the NI Executive has passed, and an election must be called. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris said, “I intend to introduce new legislation which will take a pragmatic, appropriate and limited approach to addressing the Executive Formation period and support Northern Ireland Departments to manage the immediate and evident challenges they face in stabilising public services and finances.”


Northern Ireland Question Time

Chris Heaton-Harris took questions in the Commons on Wednesday 17 January on the restoration of the NI Executive, public sector pay pressures, and the Protocol/Windsor Framework.

Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Hilary Benn told the Commons that “Labour Members stand by our commitment to implement [the Windsor Framework] if we were to be in government, and we support the efforts the Government are making to restore the institutions.” He added, “There would be no prospect of negotiating with the European Union further arrangements of benefit to Northern Ireland if the UK were to renege, again, on an international agreement it has signed.”

 Questions to the Northern Ireland Office in the Commons

Questions to the Northern Ireland Office in the Commons | Source: UK Parliament


Supply of veterinary medicines to Northern Ireland

The Lords Sub-Committee on the Windsor Framework began its inquiry on veterinary medicines on Wednesday 17 January. Veterinary medicines entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain will be required to comply with EU regulations after December 2025, when the grace period ends. The Windsor Framework made no changes to these rules.

Donal Murphy of NOAH, the National Office of Animal Health, explained two major issues the industry will face: batch release testing is required to take place within the EU, so would have to be repeated for medicines stored in GB and sent to NI. Secondly, the marketing authorisation holder would have to be located in the EU. Murphy emphasised that making these changes is burdensome and costly; NI is a very small part of the animal health industry in the UK and for some products, “making these change is simply not justifiable”.

Mark Little, Honorary Secretary of the British Veterinary Association NI Branch, giving evidence to the Committee

Mark Little, Honorary Secretary of the British Veterinary Association NI Branch, giving evidence to the Committee | Source: UK Parliament 

Mark Little of the British Veterinary Association said the UK Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD)’s work of February 2023 finds that 51% or 1700 veterinary medicines are at risk of discontinuation if the new rules apply. He said this would have a “disastrous impact” on animal health and welfare. For example, vaccines for easily preventable diseases in animals could be lost. Little also highlighted zoological diseases which can be passed to humans, saying the discontinuation for NI of vaccines which prevent diseases in cattle (e.g. salmonella and leptospirosis) could “cause a public health emergency”.

Dr Simon Doherty from Queens University Belfast said the loss of medicines could potentially cause anti-microbial resistance and impact NI’s trade. As an exporting nation, NI is advanced in the eradication of some diseases and there is a “real market reputational risk…associated with the loss of these products”, he said. Bryan Lovegrove, Secretary General of the Animal Health Distributors Association, echoed this, suggesting there could be weakening in the public’s perception of products from NI because of the lack of medicines. Doherty also noted that Ireland is a single epidemiological unit - animals and pets continuously cross the border: “Setting politics aside, disease does not stop at Newry or Armagh or Strabane or Londonderry,” he said.

EU position

Murphy suggested the EU’s unwillingness to change its rules is because veterinary medicines are used in food-producing animals, which could affect the EU’s food supply chain (which NI has access to through the Windsor Framework). While the products are the same now, there is a risk of divergence in the future. He noted that many human medicines (for which the Windsor Framework provided a solution) are purchased through NHS, while the veterinary medicines industry is private.

When European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič announced the extension of the grace period in December 2022, he said, “We are giving ample time to adapt” to the EU legislation. A notice from the Commission also set out an action plan for the UK to ensure the availability and compliance of veterinary medicines. This includes identifying products at risk of discontinuation in NI; measures to be taken to ensure these will comply; and progress reports (the first is to be sent to the European Commission by 31 January 2024). The Committee heard that the UK Government is fulfilling these requirements: product lists were drawn up in February and September 2023. Murphy, however, said some of the changes are simply uneconomic and “more time will not be the answer for some products…it’s the regulatory system”.

Little argued that “the biggest risk to the EU would be restricting veterinary medicines supply to Northern Ireland and the potential disease outbreaks associated with that”, rather than the loss of these medicines for NI in their aim to protect food standards. He said, “Where an address is located on a data sheet inside pack of medicine does not put food safety at risk for the EU.”


Witnesses told the Committee that a solution covering batch release testing and marketing authorisation holder requirements (similar to that for human medicines) would be helpful. Little said the VMD assesses to the same standard as the EU and it would “make sense” for the EU to accept GB warehousing. He acknowledged that this is a “bit of an ask” for the EU and proposed a grandfather rule to allow the continued supply of medicines as before Brexit, with only newly licenced products requiring EU checks. He also suggested labelling ‘not for EU’ on medicines packaging, similar to the solution for human medicines.

Little said following a recent review of veterinary medicines regulations in the UK (due imminently), the UK may be even more aligned to EU regulations so “divergence is not an issue.” Murphy suggested that if there were divergence in EU and UK regulations, affected products could be limited to GB.

A working group has been established with the VMD, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Cabinet Office, and stakeholders to discuss solutions.

The Sub-Committee will visit Northern Ireland next week as part of its inquiry.


UK Border Controls

On 19 January, Labour MP Stella Creasy initiated an adjournment debate on the UK Border Target Operating Model (BTOM). From 31 January, the UK Government will introduce export health certificates and phytosanitary certificates for medium-risk animal and plant products imported to GB from the EU. Creasy said, “It does not take a rocket scientist to work out that this scheme will clearly make things harder for British business.”

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Rebecca Pow responded, saying biosecurity controls on imports are “not optional…[outside the EU] we are responsible for protecting our own biosecurity from threats such as African swine fever, which is really serious for our pig industry, and Xylella, which would be terrible for our plant communities in this country”. She said the BTOM will introduce “a range of technological advances to ensure a fully 21st century border that facilitates UK trade” and that the additional costs to businesses “are substantially less than they would have been if we had extended the inherited EU model to all of our imports.”

The Financial Times reports that health inspectors at Dover port are warning that they face a 70% cut in Government funding which risks food safety and animal health. This is set to come in April, when the second phase of the BTOM (documentary checks and physical and identity checks for medium-risk animal and plant products imported to GB from the EU) is to be introduced.

The new controls, including pre-notification requirements and full customs controls, also apply to agri-food exports from Ireland. The Irish Government has urged its exporters to prepare for the new requirements. The UK is Ireland’s largest single destination for food, drink and horticulture exports – one third of Irish exports go to the UK.


Northern Ireland and UK trade deals

The House of Lords considered the Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) (CPTPP) Bill on 16 January at report stage. The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is a free trade agreement between Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam.  The UK began the process to join the agreement in 2021.

The Bill will enable the UK to be compliant with the CPTPP. Baroness Lawlor noted the Bill extends but does not apply to Northern Ireland in respect of clauses on conformity assessments and geographical indications. This is noted in the Explanatory Notes to the Bill, which explain that under the Windsor Framework, EU legislation in these areas continues to apply in NI. Lawlor said this should be included in the Bill itself, and that a new clause should be added “to require a review and assessment to be made of the impact on Northern Ireland of its being subject to different geographical indications and TBT [Technical Barriers to Trade] provisions from those in England, Wales and Scotland”.

Lord Dodds said the Explanatory Notes include “an amazing new concept in legislation passed by this UK Parliament: laws that extend to parts of the United Kingdom but do not apply there. This is bizarre." He continued, “I would like to hear the Minister give a commitment that, in future, these amendments will be taken on board by the Government, and that, for as long as this iniquitous position pertains, legislation being brought forward falling within the remit of Windsor Framework provisions will be explicit and say so in such legislation.”

Minister in the Department for Business and Trade Lord Johnson said the legislation “reflects the recommended drafting practice in Bills for amending an assimilated EU regulation where the extent is to the UK, even if application is only to Great Britain…to include the phrase…is not considered appropriate. It is felt that it would cause complications and confusion in the drafting of the Bill.”


Other news

  • Nathalie Loiseau, French MEP and co-Chair of the EU-UK Parliamentary Partnership Assembly has stated that if the UK reneges from the European Convention on Human Rights with the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, it “would cast a shadow on the UK’s trustworthiness and ability to abide by international treaties.” She refers to the Good Friday Agreement and EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement and is concerned about “statements aiming at hindering the application of the Convention or calling for a withdrawal, in particular because it may lead to dramatic consequences for EU and UK citizens in Northern Ireland”.
  • The Commons European Scrutiny Committee has published the Government’s response to its report on the UK’s Mission to the EU. It recommended that the Government “should significantly improve communication with the devolved administrations, particularly in areas touching on devolved competences” and make “greater use…of the newly established structures agreed in the Review of Intergovernmental Relations”. The Government says the Interministerial Group (IMG) on UK-EU Relations was established “to give the devolved administrations the opportunity to comment on the TCA and Withdrawal Agreement (WA)”. It says the Mission in Brussels is “in regular contact with their counterparts in the devolved administrations’ offices in Brussels and regularly meet for discussions across a wide range of topics of mutual interest.”
  • The House of Lords debated UK intergovernmental relations on 18 January.
  • The Committee of the Regions UK Contact Group meets in Brussels this week. The Group was established by the Committee of the Regions following the UK’s exit from the EU.


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