Brussels: The European Union on Monday extended for three years the grace period under which Britain can continue to export veterinary drugs to Northern Ireland and some EU members.
Under the terms of Britain’s departure from the bloc, Northern Ireland remains in the EU Single Market, in order to avoid creating a trade border with EU member Ireland.
This means that Northern Ireland remains under EU pharmaceutical regulations, in theory preventing the delivery of veterinary medicines from Great Britain, the UK mainland.
A grace period to allow the veterinary medicine trade to continue had been due to expire on December 31, raising concern, as wrangling continues over Britain’s failure to fully implement the Brexit deal.
But EU commissioner Maros Sefcovic, who oversees Brussels’ relations with London, said Monday that the exemption would last until at least December 2025.
Sefcovic said this would continue to apply not only to veterinary exports to the British territory of Northern Ireland but also to EU members Ireland, Cyprus and Malta.
He said the EU listened carefully to concerns raised by stakeholders, particularly those in Northern Ireland.
“We understand those concerns and that is why we are acting today,” Sefcovic said.
“By extending the current arrangements to December 2025, we are giving ample time to adapt. This is a practical solution to a practical problem.”
British foreign minister James Cleverly thanked Sefcovic.
“I welcome this announcement which provides greater certainty for the veterinary medicines industry in Northern Ireland,” he said, in a social media post.
“We will continue to look for long-term solutions on the Protocol, including on vet meds, to provide political stability in NI.”
Last week, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Friday his government was working “flat out” to settle post-Brexit trading problems in Northern Ireland.
As part of the divorce agreement between Britain and the EU, both sides signed up to a mechanism known as the Northern Ireland Protocol to govern trade rules in the province.
The deal keeps Northern Ireland in the European single market and customs union, mandating checks on goods heading to the province from the rest of the UK.
But it has proven deeply unpopular with pro-British unionists who have said the arrangements drive a wedge between their community and the three other UK nations.
Northern Ireland’s government has been out of action since February because of a boycott by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), in protest over the protocol.
The European Union continues to insist that the protocol be implemented in full, while Britain has warned that it might break its word and unilaterally reform it.