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EU Backtracks On Restricting Vaccines To Northern Ireland

EU Backtracks On Restricting Vaccines To Northern Ireland”

The European Commission reversed course Friday night after howls of protest from the United Kingdom and Ireland over the triggering of an emergency override provision in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement as part Brussels' new effort to control vaccine exports.

The bloc - under pressure to secure vaccine supplies for its citizens - had threatened late Friday to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to stop the free-flow of vaccines over the border from European Union member Ireland to British-administered Northern Ireland.

The announcement prompted UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to liaise with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, citing "grave concern" over the move.

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster has since urged the British Prime Minister to replace the Northern Ireland protocol after what she deemed was an "incredible act of hostility".

"By triggering Article 16 in this manner, the European Union has once again shown it is prepared to use Northern Ireland when it suits their interests but in the most despicable manner - over the provision of a vaccine which is created to save lives", she said.

Article 16 of the Protocol allows one side to unilaterally override the Withdrawal Agreement in certain circumstances, but the move is explosive because it effectively imposes a customs border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is anathema to the Good Friday Agreement.

In a tweet late on Friday, von der Leyen said she had spoken to Johnson: "We agreed on the principle that there should not be restrictions on the export of vaccines by companies where they are fulfilling contractual responsibilities".

The Northern Ireland Protocol is a special deal to prevent the re-emergence of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The EU's original plan was meant to prevent the open border between EU-member Ireland and Northern Ireland from acting as a backdoor for vaccine supplies into the United Kingdom.

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"The EU cocked up big time last night, but we all need to work in the interest of preserving Northern Ireland".

Britain had threatened to trigger the Article 16 safeguard measures earlier in the month if there were "serious problems" in supplying supermarkets in Northern Ireland.

It warned, however, that should vaccines and active substances move toward third countries and out of the bloc, it would use "all the instruments at its disposal".

Northern Ireland's health minister Robin Swann spoke to the UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Saturday to seek reassurance on vaccine supplies.

She said the EU's actions have "regrettably caused political harm".

13 of the deaths recorded in today's figures occurred in the most recent 24-hour reporting period.

He said: "The action doesn't make any sense at all and it has clearly embarrassed the Irish Government which was blindsided".

"It's the last thing we would have expected", the senior Irish official said.

To head off similar disputes and allay fears that vaccines might be diverted, the Commission introduced the measures to tighten rules on the exports of shots produced in European Union countries.



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