London, United Kingdom:
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday that EU chief Ursula von der Leyen had “serious concerns” after Brussels had partially suspended the terms of the Brexit agreement as part of a vaccine export control system.
Speaking to the EU chief on the phone, Johnson “expressed serious concern about the possible impact that the steps the EU is taking today may have on vaccine exports,” said his Downing Street office.
The EU’s export control system includes a provision to partially suspend the terms of the Brexit Agreement, which allows goods to flow across the Irish border.
UK Minister Michael Gove called the European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic to “express UK concerns about the lack of notification to the EU of its actions,” a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Britain had “thought carefully about the next steps,” he added.
The Northern Ireland Protocol as part of the Brexit Agreement enables the flow of goods between the EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland without the need for customs controls at the border.
However, Article 16 of the Protocol provides that each party unilaterally suspends the terms of certain goods if the agreement “creates serious economic, social or environmental difficulties which may persist”.
Brussels cited the item on Friday as part of a program to monitor and, in some cases, ban the export of vaccines made in EU plants amid a series with Anglo-Swedish drug giant AstraZeneca over the offer.
The move brought both sides of the loyalist / republican divide in Northern Ireland together for condemnation.
Arlene Foster, leader of the loyalist Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, described the appeal to Article 16 as an “incredible act of hostility”.
She accused the EU of using Northern Ireland “in the most despicable way – for providing a vaccine designed to save lives”.
Colum Eastwood, leader of the Republican SDLP party, said the move was a “disproportionate and grave mistake” by the EU.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Twitter that the government was “working with the EU Commission to resolve this issue”.
The EU said the measures were “justified as a protective measure … to avert serious societal difficulties due to insufficient supplies that threaten to disrupt the proper implementation of vaccination campaigns in Member States”.
Due to the processes introduced in the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, there is little or no physical infrastructure at the border.
The deal ended decades of violence between those who want Northern Ireland to stay British and those who want it to be part of the Irish Republic.
Maintaining a “soft” border was an integral part of the negotiations between the two, with local leaders warning of a possible return to violence.
Brussels was in a furious argument with AstraZeneca this week, accusing it of breaching its contract by delaying supplies to EU governments while maintaining those under an agreement previously signed with the UK.
But Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides insisted: “We are not protecting ourselves against a particular country. And we are not in competition or in a race against a country.”
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and posted from a syndicated feed.)