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Manufacturers ready to halt supply of 2,000 medicines to Northern Ireland

Pharmaceutical manufacturers in Great Britain (GB) have warned they will stop delivering over 2,000 medicines to Northern Ireland if Brexit import rules aren’t simplified.

The British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA) said its members have been forced to put the drugs on “notice of withdrawal from Northern Ireland” after the UK government and European union failed to reach agreement on the smoother flow of pharmaceutical product from GB to Northern Ireland.

It said that under the current rules – the Northern Ireland protocol – different medicine regulations are required for the same drugs being supplied to GB than those supplied to Northern Ireland, which is treated as part of the EU.

As a result, exporters of drugs to Northern Ireland from GB would require extra warehousing, laboratory testing and technical specialists in the province, a situation would eat into slim profit margins and could make the process unviable.

“Our industry delivers high volumes of medicines at low prices and with small commercial margins,” Mark Samuels, Chief Executive of the BGMA, said. “It thrives on simplicity and efficiency but is now caught in a complicated situation.”

Mark Samuels, Chief Executive of the BGMA

“After months of asking for a stable agreement between the Government and EU, our companies have been forced to put on notice over 2,000 medicines for withdrawal from Northern Ireland. These steps have been taken with the utmost reluctance but our members are being forced into an impossible position. We need all parties to set aside the politics of Brexit and put patients first.”

The comments come as the UK attempts to reshape the Northern Ireland Protocol, which it previously agreed with the European Union, which was designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

But by introducing checks and other red tape around the importation of goods from GB to Northern Ireland, the flow of trade has been stymied for many businesses attempting to ship into the province.

The UK government has told the EU the protocol is unworkable and effectively asked the union to accept UK standards on goods as equivalent to its own.

However, the EU has stood firm on the previous agreement and refused to give ground on the need for checks.

The pharmaceutical sector’s warning comes just days after Marks & Spencer warned that the protocol would see it reduce the number of products on its shelves and hike prices after the current grace period – which allows fresh food products to flow into Northern Ireland from GB – runs out at the end of September.

In anticipation, Marks & Spencer Chair Archie Norman said the supermarket had already taken the decision to delist some products in its Northern Ireland stores this Christmas, those which would be most at risk of falling foul of what he termed as “Byzantine” rules it currently needs to follow when exporting to the European Union.

“It is not the overall purposes of the customs union that are the problem,” Mr Norman said in a letter to UK Brexit minister Lord Frost. “It is the pointless and byzantine way in which the regime is enforced that is so business destructive.”

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