The European Union has agreed to extend the grace period which allows people and businesses in Northern Ireland to purchase animal medicines from the rest of the UK for another three years.
European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said it was a “practical solution to a practical problem” while underlining the EU’s commitment to resolving the wider issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol.
British foreign secretary James Cleverly welcomed the announcement which he said would offer “greater certainty” for the veterinary medicines industry in Northern Ireland.
Today we've taken steps to ensure the continuity of supplies of veterinary medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland – but also Cyprus, Ireland, and Malta.
The decision underlines our commitment to engaging with the UK to find agreed solutions around the Protocol.
— European Commission 🇪🇺 (@EU_Commission) December 19, 2022
Under the terms of the protocol, Northern Ireland continues to be bound by EU rules on veterinary medicines even though they no longer apply in the rest of the UK.
The grace period – which allowed their continued purchase from the UK – had been due to come to an end at the end of the year. However, Mr Sefcovic said it will now run until December 2025.
It will also cover Cyprus and Malta.
“By extending the current arrangements to December 2025 were are giving ample time to adapt,” Mr Sefcovic said in a statement in Brussels.
“This is a practical solution to a practical problem and it underlines our genuine commitment to engaging constructively with the UK to find agreed solutions around the protocol.
Thank you @MarosSefcovic - I welcome this announcement which provides greater certainty for the veterinary medicines industry in Northern Ireland.
We will continue to look for long-term solutions on the Protocol, including on vet meds, to provide political stability in NI.
— James Cleverly🇬🇧 (@JamesCleverly) December 19, 2022
“I therefore hope that we can carry today’s positive announcement into other areas of our discussion. I am convinced that there is a window of opportunity for a positive outcome for the benefit of people and businesses in Northern Ireland.”
The DUP expressed relief at the extension but said grace periods only represented a “sticking plaster” solution to the wider problems with the protocol.
MP Carla Lockhart, the party’s environment spokeswoman, said: “This whack-a-mole approach must stop.
“This agreement is only to 2025. The can has only been kicked down the road.
“What we need urgently is the EU and our government to find a new agreement that addresses these intolerable restrictions on the flow of goods within the UK.”