EU officials on Saturday confessed to a “mistake” in using the Brexit emergency powers for Northern Ireland during a vaccine showdown with the UK, and London said it expected the supply of COVID-19 shots not to be interrupted.
The European Union has fallen far behind Britain and the United States in the race to vaccinate its public. It announced on Friday that it would impose export controls on vaccines, which is widely viewed as a threat, to prevent cans from being sent to the UK.
However, it was forced to undo part of the announcement within hours after both the UK and Ireland complained about plans to introduce emergency export controls on vaccines across the land border between Ireland and the UK-ruled Northern Ireland.
“They realized they made a mistake and I think we can now focus on making sure our vaccination program is successful,” Michael Gove, a senior UK cabinet minister, told Sky News.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “I was reassured that the EU has no desire to block suppliers who fulfill contracts for the distribution of vaccines to the UK.”
“The world is watching and only through international cooperation will we defeat this pandemic.”
“Simply and simply a mistake”
EU officials admitted the decision to use emergency powers to control trade across the Northern Irish border was a mistake. The prevention of controls at the border was the central issue in five years of the Brexit negotiations.
“It is much better to recognize early that something could be a problem and change it than hold onto your guns and dig a hole for yourself,” an EU official said on Saturday.
“As soon as it became clear that there would be political difficulties and sensitivity there, especially on the Irish and Northern Irish sides, we decided to eliminate them.”
Another EU official called the drama “simply and clearly a mistake”.
Politicians in the EU are under strong pressure to explain why their countries received only a fraction of the vaccinations achieved in the UK that left the single market four weeks ago.
EU officials were furious earlier this month when British-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca announced that most of the vaccine doses it had promised to ship to the EU by March would be delayed due to production problems in Belgium.
AstraZeneca has made millions of cans in the UK but it has told the EU that it cannot divert any to the continent until it fulfills a contract with London. The UK has since imported EU doses of a separate vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech.
The EU on Friday announced rules to control exports of vaccines widely seen as an implicit threat to blocking Pfizer shipments to the UK unless London shares its AstraZeneca shots.
However, after five years of Brexit negotiations, it was too far to impose restrictions on the Northern Irish border to keep it open. The issue is central to a 1998 peace agreement that ended 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland.
Irish Minister for European Affairs Thomas Byrne said Dublin was not consulted en route.
“This type of provision is standard in trade agreements, but in the Northern Ireland situation it obviously has a different political resonance and it may be the case that this has not been fully appreciated by the authors,” he told Newstalk Radio.
“A mistake was clearly made,” said Byrne.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and posted from a syndicated feed.)