Michael Gove stokes Irish fears by warning we could face medicine shortages
Medicine shortages experienced by the UK after a disorderly Brexit will directly affect supplies in Ireland, the British government has warned.
Michael Gove, the minister in charge of the UK's no-deal planning, told MPs that he wanted to "help those citizens in Ireland" who need medicines - but he pointedly added that can only be achieved if the backstop is dropped.
He claimed two-thirds of "medical supplies which reach the Republic of Ireland" must pass through the UK first.
"That is why it is important that we secure a deal, not just to safeguard our NHS but to help those citizens in Ireland who are our brothers and sisters too," he said.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Simon Harris said Ireland had a "multi-stakeholder system in place to prevent and manage shortages when they occur".
There are currently no medicine shortages linked to Brexit but the Irish Independent understands it is a concern for the Government.
A meeting of key players including the HSE and the Health Products Regulatory Authority is being planned for next week.
Mr Gove's comments came on a day of remarkable contributions in the House of Commons where Ireland was firmly in the firing line.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson denied he is angling for a general election and announced he will travel to Dublin next Monday.
He presented a planned meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as evidence that progress was being made in talks on alternative arrangements to the backstop.
However, sources in Dublin and Brussels dismissed the idea that any meaningful advance had been made.
The European Commission Taskforce, which is led by Michel Barnier, has privately briefed member states that Mr Johnson is seeking to renege on commitments made in December 2017. That joint agreement between the EU and UK sought to protect the all-island economy and ensure no hard Border.
Key figures in France and the Netherlands also jumped to Ireland's defence, with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte saying: "It's up to the British to come up with proposals and Johnson assured me - and I trust him - that they will come to Brussels with concrete proposals by which they think they can solve the problem and I've said we are always open for proposals, but they have to come."
There are some fears in Irish Government circles that Mr Johnson's agreement to finally come to Dublin is little more than part of his plan to convince MPs that constructive engagement is taking place to avoid a no-deal scenario.
Mr Johnson told the House of Commons: "I believe the chances of a deal have risen. This week we are intensifying the pace of discussions in Brussels."
However, he reiterated his view that the backstop is "anti-democratic" and he claimed it would "undermine the balance of the Good Friday Agreement".
"In important matters it gives a greater preponderance to the voice of Dublin in the affairs of Northern Ireland than it does the UK.
"That is a simple fact. And I don't think it is widely enough understood."