(Source: European Commission)
“Check against delivery”
Good afternoon and welcome to what will hopefully be the last fully online press conference in this building. Today marks six months since the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland – an integral part of the Withdrawal Agreement – became operational. I have repeatedly stated that there are still quite a few gaps in the UK’s implementation of the Protocol. At the same time, we are aware of a number of challenges in implementation – and therefore today, the Commission has tabled a package of measures to address the most pressing issues. These solutions have an unambiguous common denominator – they were brought about with the core purpose of benefitting the people in Northern Ireland. They demonstrate that while we remain firm on the full implementation of the Protocol, we also continue to seek creative solutions in the interest of all communities in Northern Ireland. Ultimately, our work is about ensuring that the hard-earned gains of the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement – peace and stability in Northern Ireland – are protected, while avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and maintaining the integrity of the EU Single Market.
Turning to the first announcement: we are accommodating the UK’s request to extend the grace period for the movement of chilled meats from Great Britain to Northern Ireland by an additional three months, until 30 September of this year. However, we are not issuing a blank cheque. This solution is of a temporary nature and with strict conditions attached – meaning that the UK must fulfil clear obligations, such as a channelling procedure in Northern Ireland; obligatory health certificates; the “NI only” destination with corresponding packaging and labelling; while standards for these products must remain unchanged. This extension will allow stakeholders, and especially supermarkets in Northern Ireland, to continue to adapt their supply chains to the post-Brexit situation – something yet to be completed. But what is equally important, we hope that during these three months, the UK will engage constructively on a broader agreement in the area of public, animal and plant health, based on alignment with EU rules. I have proposed this solution repeatedly – alongside many actors on the ground – as it would see 80 percent of checks required under the Protocol disappear in a flash. All Northern Irish stakeholders deserve clarity, stability and predictability. By the same token, I encourage the UK to continue to pursue joint action through joint bodies – as opposed to unilateral steps, undermining trust.
Turning to the second part of our package: we have put together a significant set of practical solutions, helping implement the Protocol and facilitating the everyday life of communities in Northern Ireland. On medicines – something I personally take very seriously in this time of pandemic – the Commission will table a legislative proposal in the early autumn that will secure their continued, long-term supply from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. This would allow for instance, for the continued availability of generic medicines in Northern Ireland – something of particular importance to the NHS. We have also identified a solution to ease the movement of guide dogs accompanying persons travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Similarly, we will simplify the movement of livestock, by removing the need for re-tagging when animals move multiple times between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Lastly, drivers from the UK will no longer need to show the motor insurance Green Card when entering the EU, and this waiver will be particularly helpful for Northern Irish motorists crossing the border into Ireland. I am convinced that these forthcoming solutions are a true testament to our commitment to the people of Northern Ireland and to the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement. They are also an unquestionable response to those in the UK suggesting that the EU is inflexible or too legalistic. Because in some cases, notably on medicines, we have completely turned our rules upside down and inside out to find a solid solution to an outstanding challenge.
Let me conclude by underlining that I am committed to continue paying full attention to the implementation of the Protocol on the ground. If we do this right – jointly – the Protocol will bring new opportunities and Northern Ireland will benefit immensely. Thank you!