News

HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 20 December 2021

Media Coverage

EU eases medicines rules for Northern Ireland as trade talks progress
The Financial Times, Andy Bounds, 17 December 2021

The Financial Times reports that the EU is changing its rules to allow Britain to continue supplying medicines to Northern Ireland as a first step in solving the dispute over post-Brexit trade in the region. The EU will legislate to allow UK-approved medicines to enter NI to avoid possible shortages.

The move was given a cautious welcome by Lord David Frost following meetings with the EU on Friday, however, he warned that the two sides still have a long way to go to resolve their differences.

The proposal will ensure that NI has the same access to medicines as the rest of the UK. The step was welcomed by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) who published a joint statement.

This was also reported in The Guardian and The Mirror.

Liz Truss to take on Brexit brief after David Frost resignation
The Guardian, Lisa O’Carroll, 19 December 2021

The Guardian reports that the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, is to take over responsibility for the UK’s relationship with the EU after Brexit Minister, David Frost’s resignation. Downing Street has said that she will be adding the ministerial responsibility to her portfolio with immediate effect, including taking over Lord Frost’s key positions on all post-Brexit committees.

Her immediate task will be to decide on whether this is a reset moment for the UK’s severely strained relationship with the EU or whether she will continue with Frost’s approach over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has put the UK on collision course with Brussels and Washington.

“This will need more than simply replacing Frost. Johnson should take this opportunity to end the anomaly that the Minister responsible for relations with our nearest neighbours operates as a lone ranger in the Cabinet Office,” the crossbench peer Lord Ricketts, a former undersecretary at the Foreign Office and Ambassador to France, said on Sunday.

This was also reported in The Telegraph and in BBC News.

Covid lifeline! Omicron boosters could be delivered across the WHOLE UK ‘very quickly’
The Express, Aleks Phillips, 19 December 2021

The Express reports that the UK’s medical supply chain could pivot to distributing a booster designed to talking the Omicron variant ‘very quickly’. Pfizer and Moderna have announced that they are developing specific vaccines to tackle the emerging variant, which could be ready as early as next year.

Martin Sawer, Executive Director of the HDA, told The Express that “it would be no problem, because we’ve got two wholesalers set up to do the whole of England – to all vaccination centres including pharmacies, GP practices – and they have already done Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.” He continued: “Because the Omicron variant vaccine, at the moment, sounds like it’s likely to be tweaked versions of the current vaccines, one can imagine it will still be from Pfizer, Moderna and maybe AstraZeneca. And, therefore, the same supply routes would be relevant.”

“So I don’t think that it would be a problem at all; there’s sufficient capacity to do it by volume in the wholesale supply chain.”

Parliamentary Coverage

Lord Frost statement on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland: 17 December 2021
Cabinet Office and The Rt Hon Lord Frost CMG, 17 December 2021

The Cabinet Office and the Rt Hon Lord Frost CMG have published a statement on the Northern Ireland Protocol. Lord Frost states that it is accepted by all parties that current operations of the Protocol do not fully supports its objectives. Some progress has been made, but not as much or as quickly as had been hoped. He believes that the Government’s proposal to remove medicines from the Protocol is still the most straightforward solution. However, he says that GB has been willing to look at the EU’s preferred solution to pursue unilateral amendments of EU laws.

The EU proposals published on Friday, he says, follow on from discussions between the two teams. He continues that they could constitute a constructive way forward, and that Britain will be willing to look at them positively.


Full Coverage

EU eases medicines rules for Northern Ireland as trade talks progress
The Financial Times, Andy Bounds, 17 December 2021

This article is subject to copyright terms and conditions. Please access full article here.

Liz Truss to take on Brexit brief after David Frost resignation
The Guardian, Lisa O’Carroll, 19 December 2021

The foreign secretary, Liz Truss, is to take over responsibility for the UK’s relationship with the EU after the Brexit minister David Frost’s resignation, Downing Street has said.

She will be adding ministerial responsibility to her foreign portfolio with immediate effect.

This means taking over Lord Frost’s key positions on all the post-Brexit committees, including as co-chair of the partnership council and the joint committee that oversees the implementation and enforcement of both the withdrawal agreement of 2020 and the trade and cooperation deal clinched last December.

Her appointment will be seen as a steadying move after Frost’s resignation dealt a body blow to an already weakened prime minister, reeling from sleaze scandals and the loss of the byelection in North Shropshire on Friday.

Frost, who has led negotiations with the EU, handed in his resignation letter to Boris Johnson last week and had been persuaded to stay on until January – until the news was leaked on Sunday.

In his letter of resignation, Frost said it was the introduction of plan B coronavirus measures, including the implementation of Covid passes, that prompted his decision. He also said he had become disillusioned by tax rises and the cost of net zero policies.

Her immediate task will be to decide whether this is a reset moment for the UK’s severely strained relationship with the EU or whether she will continue with Frost’s approach over the Northern Ireland protocol, something that has put the UK on a collision course with Brussels and Washington.

Speculation was rife that Frost resigned after a briefing organised by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office nine days ago in which European journalists were told that the UK was retreating from its hardline approach.

While fiercely loyal to Johnson, Truss is considered a frontrunner along with the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to succeed him in a future leadership challenge. She also commands the support of the hardline Eurosceptics, known as the “spartans” in the party, famed for her libertarian views and her war on “woke” culture.

In a recent poll by Conservative Home she ranked No 1 in popularity in “satisfaction ratings”, ahead of the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, Frost, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Sunak.

A major speech a week ago underlined the former remainer’s Brexit credentials, extolling the virtues of a post-Brexit “confident, outward-looking, patriotic and positive” Britain.

Allies of Sunak have long been suspicious of No 10’s treatment of Truss, suspecting that she was set up as a rival to the chancellor in order to clip his wings. “Clearly she plans to bash her way to the final two [in a leadership contest] then allow a Trumpian base to carry her into No 10,” one supporter told the Observer recently.

Her new role as the lead negotiator will be a test of her political abilities on a well-lit domestic stage.

The complexity of the relationship with the EU and the fragility of Northern Ireland will be demanding, seen as opportunities but also potential booby traps.

Unlike Frost, Truss is an elected member of cabinet and has served under prime ministers David Cameron, Theresa May and Johnson, as a minister of state for environment, food and rural affairs, chief secretary to the Treasury, international trade secretary and foreign secretary after the recent cabinet reshuffle, replacing Dominic Raab.

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, welcomed the appointment, saying: “I’ve worked well with Liz previously in agriculture and more recently in foreign affairs.

“I look forward to working with her now on Brexit. Much work ahead but progress is achievable in the new year.”

Downing Street also announced that Chris Heaton-Harris would become minister of state for Europe and would deputise for the foreign secretary as necessary on Brexit and the protocol.
Moving the role of Brexit negotiator to the Foreign Office will be seen as a wise move by some critics of Frost who felt too much power was held in one individual’s hands.

“This will need more than simply replacing Frost. Johnson should take this opportunity to end the anomaly that the minister responsible for relations with our nearest neighbours operates as a lone ranger in the Cabinet Office,” the crossbench peer Lord Ricketts, a former undersecretary at the Foreign Office and ambassador to France, said on Sunday.

“He should give the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office responsibility for EU policy, where it can be properly integrated into wider foreign policy under a senior minister for Europe.”

Covid lifeline! Omicron boosters could be delivered across the WHOLE UK ‘very quickly’
The Express, Aleks Phillips, 19 December 2021

THE UK’S medical supply chain could pivot to distributing a booster designed to tackle the rising Omicron variant “very quickly”, a distribution chief has said.

It comes as Pfizer and Moderna announced they were developing a specific vaccine designed to tackle the emerging variant, which could be ready as early as March next year. Meanwhile, the Government is pushing for all adults to receive a third dose of existing vaccines before the new year, which early studies have shown provide adequate protection.

Pfizer/BioNTech began developing a version of their vaccine designed to tackle the Omicron variant on November 25, with first batches ready to deliver within 100 days.

Asked how quickly the UK’s medical supply chain could pivot to distributing a new, Omicron-specific vaccine, Martin Sawer, chief executive of the Healthcare Distribution Association, told Express.co.uk: “I think very quickly.

“It would be no problem, because we’ve got two wholesalers set up to do the whole of England – to all vaccination centres including pharmacies, GP practices – and they have already done Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.”

He added: “Because the Omicron variant vaccine, at the moment, sounds like its likely to be tweaked versions of the current vaccines, one can imagine it will still be from Pfizer, Moderna and maybe AstraZeneca.

“And, therefore, the same supply routes would be relevant.

“So I don’t think that would be a problem at all; there’s sufficient capacity to do it by volume in the wholesale supply chain.”

Oxford/AstraZeneca has yet to announce they are developing an Omicron-specific version of their vaccine.

Early analysis from the UK Health Security Agency suggested that the AstraZeneca vaccine may offer significantly less protection from the new variant compared to those developed by Pfizer and Moderna. According to the BMJ, Teresa Lambe, the lead scientific investigator at the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, recently said: “We don’t know if we need a new vaccine yet.

“It is very, very likely that we will see a fall in neutralising antibodies, [but] we have yet to come across a variant where we’ve seen an impact on protection against hospitalisation and death.

“Unfortunately, we need to be a little patient for that data to come out.

However, she added that “we, like other vaccine manufacturers, can go fast” if needed.

Early studies have suggested that a third dose of existing vaccines provide give enough protection to avoid severe illness, despite the mutations found in the Omicron variant.

This is because 80 percent of the epitopes – the part of a foreign body that evoke an immune response – in the spike protein were not affected by the mutations.

On Sunday, Boris Johnson announced he was stepping up the booster rollout so that every adult would be offered one by the end of the month.

This brought forward the Government’s target by a month.

In his address to the nation, the Prime Minister said “directly to those of you on the front line, I must ask you to make another extraordinary effort now, so we can protect you and your colleagues – and above all your patients – from even greater pressures next year.”

He added: “The restricting factor now is getting the number of getting the people who can do the administering of the jabs – you know, the actual clinicians who do the vaccine, getting vaccines in people’s arms; that is the rate-limiting factor.

“So there’s no shortage of Covid vaccines and no problems there. It’s just about getting enough vaccinators.”

Lord Frost statement on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland: 17 December 2021
Cabinet Office and The Rt Hon Lord Frost CMG, 17 December 2021

  1. The objectives of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland agreed between the UK and the EU in 2019 are to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions; to respect Northern Ireland’s integral place in the United Kingdom, its internal market and customs territory; to uphold the essential state functions and territorial integrity of the United Kingdom; to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland; and to help protect the EU’s Single Market.
  2. It is now widely accepted by all parties that the current operation of this Protocol does not fully support these objectives and that changes are needed if the current situation is to improve. It is clear, including from recent polling, that a large majority across Northern Ireland shares that perspective.
  3. The Command Paper we published on 21 July outlined comprehensive and lasting solutions to the current difficulties. We decided then that the right route was to prioritise negotiated change to the Protocol rather than, at that point, use the Protocol’s Article 16 safeguard measures. I and my team have engaged in detailed negotiations with the EU Commission on this basis in recent months.
  4. There has been some progress, but not as much, and not as quickly as we had hoped. Although we have worked with the proposals put forward by the Commission in mid-October, they do not solve the problems, and even in some aspects take us back from the current unsatisfactory status quo.
  5. The main area of progress has been on medicine supply to Northern Ireland. I believe that our proposal to remove medicines from the Protocol is still the most straightforward solution, given that the provision of health services is an essential state function and that Northern Ireland medicines are overwhelmingly sourced from elsewhere in the UK. But we have been willing to look at the EU’s preferred option, pursuing unilateral amendment of its own laws. The EU’s proposals, published today, follow on from discussions between our teams. They could constitute a constructive way forward, and we are willing to look at them positively, but as we have not been able to scrutinise the texts in the necessary detail we are not yet able to make that judgement with full confidence.
  6. There has been much less progress in other areas. The burdensome customs and SPS arrangements for goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland have had a chilling effect on trade, increasing costs and discouraging firms from trading within their own country. It is vital to get the arrangements in this area right, given the overwhelming importance to the Northern Ireland economy of links with the rest of the UK. We have argued consistently that the simplest solution is to put in place substantively different processes for goods which all sides agree will stay in the UK and those which do not. These should cover not only goods moved directly, but also the increasing proportion of goods moved by parcel, and other kinds of movements such as pets, livestock, plants, and seeds. The proposals made by the EU in October constituted a step forward but, based on what we have heard to date, our expert analysis does not support the ambitious public claims made for them. Overall, it is not possible to envisage an agreed solution which does not deliver significant change in this area.
  7. Nor have we managed to have a constructive discussion about the regulatory burdens being faced by operators in Great Britain looking to place manufactured goods on the market in Northern Ireland. These burdens will get worse over time as UK and EU rules diverge.
  8. We have had some limited discussions on subsidy control. The Protocol’s provisions in this area, leaving Northern Ireland subject to EU state aid rules, were agreed in 2019. Since then, the UK and the EU have agreed entirely new subsidy control rules in our new free trade deal and we have brought in an entirely new national subsidy control regime. The rules need to evolve to reflect this new reality. Northern Ireland businesses are facing unjustified burdens and complexity, and the Government cannot deliver aid to Northern Ireland, for example for Covid recovery support, without asking for the EU’s permission. We need to find more appropriate and proportionate arrangements that reflect the low level of risks posed to the single market in practice by subsidies in Northern Ireland.
  9. There have been relatively constructive discussions on VAT and excise policy, but we have not yet found a way of ensuring that Northern Ireland can properly benefit from its place in the United Kingdom’s VAT and excise area in the same way as other parts of the UK.
  10. Finally, a solution is needed on governance. As the EU’s preferred way forward on medicines illustrates, neither Northern Ireland nor the UK more broadly gets any say on the way EU legislation is imposed on Northern Ireland. This remains a fundamental issue of democratic accountability. Nor is it reasonable or fair for disputes between the UK and the EU relating to the Protocol to be settled in the EU Court of Justice, the court of one of the parties. The Withdrawal Agreement already provides for the use of an independent arbitration mechanism instead, and the simplest and most durable way forward would be to agree that this should be the sole route for settling disputes in future.
  11. Overall, with the potential exception of medicines, I do not believe that the negotiations are yet close to delivering outcomes which can genuinely solve the problems presented by the Protocol. The EU’s proposals only cover certain areas and would not do enough to ease the burdens faced by people in Northern Ireland; or to create the conditions for genuinely cross-community support.
  12. Our preference would be to reach a comprehensive solution dealing with all the issues. However, given the gravity and urgency of the difficulties, we have been prepared to consider an interim agreement as a first step to deal with the most acute problems, including trade frictions, subsidy control, and governance. Such an agreement would still leave many underlying strains unresolved, for example those caused by diverging UK and EU rules over time. It would therefore be inherently provisional by nature and would accordingly need to include mechanisms for addressing outstanding issues and resolving new concerns as they arise. The UK has proposed a number of possible ways forward, but regrettably it has not so far been possible to make progress even on what the core elements of an interim agreement might be.
  13. It is disappointing that it has not been possible to reach either a comprehensive or worthwhile interim agreement this year. A solution needs to be found urgently early next year. For as long as there is no agreed solution, we remain ready to use the Article 16 safeguard mechanism if that is the only way to protect the prosperity and stability of Northern Ireland and its people.
HDA UK Media and Political Bulletin – 20 December 2021

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