Boris Johnson will refuse compromise with Brussels over European Court of Justice

·3-min read
 Brexit negotiator Lord Frost - Virginia Mayo
Brexit negotiator Lord Frost - Virginia Mayo

Boris Johnson will refuse to allow a compromise with Brussels that would give the European Court of Justice a continuing role in policing the Northern Ireland protocol, it has emerged.

A Government source denied speculation that the UK could back down over an insistence by Lord Frost, the Cabinet Office minister, that the role of the Luxembourg court should be eliminated altogether from the agreement over the goods trade on the island of Ireland.

The intervention followed claims that Mr Johnson was prepared to accept a limited role for the court in a bid to reach a new deal with the EU over the protocol.

But a Government source said: "There’s been plenty of speculation about governance this week but our position remains unchanged: the role of the European Court of Justice in resolving disputes between the UK and EU must end."

The source described last week's talks as "constructive", but added: "The reality is that we are still far apart on the big issues, especially governance.

“We need to see real progress soon rather than get stuck in a process of endless negotiation because the issues on the ground in Northern Ireland haven’t gone away."

Lord Frost, the Cabinet Office minister, and his EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic are expected to meet on Friday to discuss whether the talks suggest they will be able to "bridge the gap" between the two sides.

Earlier this week fears were raised over items such as British Christmas crackers which could face burdensome regulations for those wanting to export to Northern Ireland because of Brexit and the Irish Sea border.

A negotiating team from the European Commission is due to travel to London on Tuesday for discussions on Northern Ireland, where substantial gaps remain on some of the fundamental issues of the protocol.

“Whether we’re able to establish that momentum soon will help us determine if we can bridge the gap or if we need to use Article 16 to safeguard the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement," a Government source said.

Fears that Northern Ireland could be denied access to new drugs

There are further fears over the Protocol’s effect on medicines, as the province could be denied access to new drugs, despite the EU’s latest offer over the supply of drugs after Brexit.

Northern Ireland continues to follow EU pharmaceutical rules under the protocol, which means new medicines could be approved or rejected there but not in the rest of Britain.

Industry has warned officials that companies could forgo the relatively small Northern Irish market rather than applying for authorisation twice for the same country because additional costs make it economically unviable.

“People in Northern Ireland must have access to the full range of medicines as other parts of the UK. Similarly, the Medicines and Health Care Regulator (MHRA) must be able perform its functions effectively throughout the UK,” a Government spokesperson said.

Earlier this month, the European Commission offered to change EU law so the NHS in Northern Ireland could continue to receive cheap generic drugs from Britain once a grace period in the protocol expires at the end of the year.

The commission’s paper allows a single UK market authorisation for existing medicines, which industry and the Government has welcomed.

But there is no similar concession for new treatments, which can include generic medicines that are cheaper than brand-name drugs but have the same effect.

Some medicines, like new cancer drugs, can only be authorised directly by the pan-EU European Medicines Agency, which is not addressed in the commission paper.

A company which gets approval for a drug in a member state, for example Poland, could then also apply for its approval in Northern Ireland.

The MHRA would have no choice but to approve it for Northern Ireland under this procedure, despite having no access to the data behind the decision.

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