INTL Northern Ireland at centre of major row between EU and UK over vaccine supply

Melodi

Disaster Cat
Well, that certainly escalated quickly, and considering that the UK resisted the urge to do this even in the face of some food shortages in Northern Ireland (it is calling a temporary suspension of the "All Island Customs Agreement" that allows a free-flow of goods and people between the Republic and Northern Ireland).

This vaccine "war" has a good chance of getting really ugly, really fast if this keeps on going - Melodi

'Incredible act of hostility': Northern Ireland at centre of major row between EU and UK over vaccine supply
The Irish government wasn’t told in advance about the EU’s controversial decision to invoke a Brexit deal provision.
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THE EU HAS moved to prevent Northern Ireland from being used as a back door to funnel coronavirus vaccine from the bloc into the rest of the UK.
The move has caused alarm across the political spectrum, with the Irish government, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the DUP and other unionists all raising their concerns.
Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster branded the EU’s triggering of Article 16 of Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol to stop unfettered flow of inoculations from the EU into the region an “incredible act of hostility”.
Meanwhile, senior UK government minister Michael Gove said this evening that the UK is “carefully considering” the next steps.
The protocol, with is part of the Brexit withdrawal deal, normally allows for free movement of goods from the EU into Northern Ireland.
Under the terms of the protocol, goods should be able to move freely between the EU and Northern Ireland as the region remains in the single market for goods and still operates under EU customs rules.
The EU has triggered Article 16 of the protocol to temporarily place export controls on this movement in respect of vaccines.
Discussions are taking place tonight between Taoiseach Micheál Martin and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over the decision to invoke Article 16.
A government spokesperson said: “We are aware of the issue and the Taoiseach is currently in discussions with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to express our concerns.”

It is understood that no prior consultation took place with the Irish government prior to the announcement tonight.
A Government source said that the criticism of the decision was “unsurprising”. The decision made by the commission still has to be ratified by the European Council.
It comes amid a deepening row over the allocation of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine after the company announced delays to its EU operations.
The move to activate Article 16 will frustrate any effort to use Northern Ireland as a back door to bring vaccines into Great Britain.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney tweeted this evening that the Irish government is working with the European Commission to “try to resolve this issue and protect the integrity and operation of the NI protocol”.



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Arlene Foster said: “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 designed to save lives.
“At the first opportunity, the EU has placed a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland over the supply chain of the coronavirus vaccine.”
The regulation means Northern Ireland will be considered an export territory for the purposes of vaccine sent from the EU/the Republic of Ireland.
Northern Ireland’s vaccines arrive from the rest of the UK at present so those will be unaffected.

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The DUP leader added: “With the European Union using Article 16 in such an aggressive and most shameful way, it is now time for our Government to step up.
“I will be urging the Prime Minister to act and use robust measures including Article 16 to advance the interests of Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.”
The DUP has previously pressed the British Government to invoke the Article 16 mechanism because of disruption to the movement of goods between Britain and Northern Ireland.
The European Commission said: “Exports of goods from Northern Ireland to other parts of the United Kingdom cannot be restricted by Union law unless this is strictly required by international obligations of the Union.
“Therefore, movements of goods covered by this regulation between the Union and Northern Ireland should be treated as exports.
“Whilst quantitative restrictions on exports are prohibited between the Union and Northern Ireland, in accordance with Article 5 (5) of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, this is justified as a safeguard measure pursuant to Article 16 of that Protocol in order to avert serious societal difficulties due to a lack of supply threatening to disturb the orderly implementation of the vaccination campaigns in the member states.”
Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill said this evening she’d spoken to the Irish government to raise her “very serious concerns” about the invoking of Article 16.
She said: “This is a totally ill judged move by the EU and should not have been triggered. Calm heads need to prevail, this needs sorted urgently.”
The move was also criticised by SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.
He said: “The disproportionate decision to invoke Article 16 of the Ireland Protocol by the European Commission is a grave error in judgment that undermines the work that has taken place over the last five years to defend the interests of people on this island.
“We face a common threat. Our response to this virus, and to the supply of vaccines, should be characterised by our common values. I am a proud European because I believe in cooperation, compromise and solidarity across national borders. This decision sadly places the Commission at odds with those values.”

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UUP leader Steve Aiken said Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis should be embarrassed.
He added: “The EU is unilaterally invoking Article 16 to protect its own interests and it’s about time the UK Government did the same instead of being lead actors in a ridiculous charade that there is no border in the Irish Sea and that Article 16 can’t be invoked.”
The chairman of the House of Commons Northern Ireland affairs committee, meanwhile, has said it was was “unconscionable folly” for the EU to escalate its vaccines row by triggering Article 16.
Simon Hoare said: “Vaccines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, which account for 100% of Northern Ireland’s coronavirus vaccines, will continue so the public have no reason for fear, but it’s unconscionable folly to escalate a contract dispute with a supplier to affect the so recently agreed, and still bedding in, NI Protocol.
“We need calm, stability and level-headedness.”
With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha, Sean Murray
 
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Melodi

Disaster Cat
Govt had 'no advance warning' of EU decision to trigger Article 16
Updated / Friday, 29 Jan 2021 20:42

Under the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol, all products should be exported from the EU to the North without checks or controls

Under the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol, all products should be exported from the EU to the North without checks or controls
By Tony Connelly
Europe Editor

The Irish Government was not given advance warning of the European Commission's decision to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol in order to bring in new monitoring controls on exports of Covid-19 vaccines outside the EU, RTÉ News understands.

Irish officials are said to "very concerned" and "shocked" at the move and its implications.

It is understood the Taoiseach's department was contacted late this afternoon, but only after the commission had announced the move.

The new transparency mechanism is designed to ensure that vaccines which are contractually destined for EU member states are not instead exported out of the EU.

According to a senior source, European Commission officials feared that the Northern Ireland Protocol could be a loophole.

That is because the protocol ensures there can be no impediment on exports to Northern Ireland from the EU, but also because there is unfettered access for goods moving from Northern Ireland to Britain.

For that reason, it is understood the commission decided to opt for an emergency triggering of Article 16 of the protocol, which allows either side to take safeguard measures in the event of a serious societal or economic threat.

It is understood Maros Sefcovic, the EU's chair of the Joint Committee, which implements the protocol, has been in touch with his UK counterpart Michael Gove.

The Taoiseach has already been in touch with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and a follow-up call is expected.

Irish officials believe the move is disproportionate, although they acknowledge the lack of vaccines in European capitals as a crisis for member states.

One official said the Northern Ireland Protocol had been "swept up" into the issue and that this could have unfortunate consequences.

Brussels today invoked the article as part of a scheme to monitor exports of vaccines produced in EU plants, amid a row with drugs giant AstraZeneca over supply.

A spokesperson for Micheál Martin told RTÉ News that the Taoiseach was aware of the issue and is "in discussions with Ursula von der Leyen to raise concerns about this".

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said on Twitter: "We are working with the EU Commission to try to resolve this issue and protect the integrity and operation of the NI Protocol."


DUP Leader and First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster described the triggering of Article 16 as "an incredible act of hostility".

She said the EU is prepared to use Northern Ireland "when it suits their interests".

"At the first opportunity the EU has placed a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland over the supply chain of the coronavirus vaccine," she said.

She said she would urge the British Prime Minister to act and "use robust measures including Article 16" to advance the interests of the UK and Northern Ireland.

Mrs Foster later posted a video on Twitter in which she said: "This is an incredibly hostile and aggressive act by the European Union. They are trying to stop the supply of a vaccine, designed to save lives, into the United Kingdom."


Stormont's Deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill, also expressed her "serious concerns" over the matter in a post on Twitter.



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"I have just spoken with the Irish Government to raise my very serious concerns in relation to the invoking of Article 16. This is a totally ill-judged move by the EU and should not have been triggered.

"Calm heads need to prevail, this needs sorted urgently," she said.

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald described the use of Article 16 as a "grave error".

She said on Twitter: "Our citizens need timely access to lifesaving vaccines not trade disputes. Now is a time for cool heads and solidarity."

The leader of the SDLP said invoking Article 16 is "disproportionate and a grave error in judgment by the European Commission.

Colum Eastwood added: "We face a common threat. Our response should be characterised by our common values - cooperation and solidarity. We're engaging with both governments and the EU to find a way forward."

British Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove spoke to his counterpart on the EU-UK joint committee, Maros Sefcovic, to "express the UK's concern over a lack of notification from the EU about its actions in relation to the NI protocol".

"[Michael Gove] said the UK would now be carefully considering next steps," a statement from Downing Street added.

The British Labour Party's Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh said the EU's move is "deeply destabilising" and urged the EU to "revoke this action".

"Unilateral actions like this do nothing to aid the stability in Northern Ireland which the protocol was designed to preserve," she said.

The chairman of the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Simon Hoare, said it was "unconscionable folly" for the EU to escalate its vaccines row by triggering an aspect of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Hoare said: "Vaccines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, which account for 100% of Northern Ireland's coronavirus vaccines, will continue so the public have no reason for fear.

"But it is unconscionable folly to escalate a contract dispute with a supplier to affect the so recently agreed, and still bedding in, NI Protocol.

"We need calm, stability and level-headedness."

Dublin MEP Barry Andrews described the move as "scorched earth vaccine policy from the Commission putting lots of progress on island of Ireland at risk".

The Archbishop of Canterbury tweeted: "The European Union was originally inspired by Christian social teaching - at the heart of which is solidarity. Seeking to control the export of vaccines undercuts the EU's basic ethics. They need to work together with others."

Additional reporting: Mary Regan, PA news
 

Melodi

Disaster Cat
The EU was forced to back down (this time) the uproar all over Ireland and the UK was epic. I don't know what our Prime Minister (Ireland) told the EU in that phone call but my guess at least part of it was something like "and what army are you actually planning to bring to the border to enforce this because we won't be." - Melodi

part of a much larger Daily Mail article best read at link



'The EU cocked up big time': Desperate Brussels bullies are ridiculed after axing 'Trumpian' plan to stop Covid vaccine entering the UK by introducing Northern Ireland border controls - but they WILL push export ban that could hit 3.5m doses
  • Move would have meant border controls between Ireland and Northern Ireland - essentially a 'hard border'
  • Northern Ireland's Arlene Foster called it 'incredible act of hostility' while Boris Johnson had 'grave concerns'
  • But the EU has now backed down over the proposals and Brussels says they will no longer be put into place
  • Today EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier called for vaccine co-operation between Brussels and the UK
  • Today former Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith called the move an 'almost Trumpian act'
  • Europe has introduced new controls that give it powers to block vaccines being exported from the continent
By JACK ELSOM and JAMES ROBINSON and CHRIS PLEASANCE FOR MAILONLINE and JASON GROVES and DANIEL MARTIN FOR THE DAILY MAIL

PUBLISHED: 08:08, 30 January 2021 | UPDATED: 13:28, 30 January 2021






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The EU was accused of 'cocking up big time' last night after announcing controls to stop vaccine exports reaching the UK through Northern Ireland - only to abruptly backtrack following widespread condemnation.
Politicians in London, Dublin and Belfast rounded on Brussels for unilaterally overriding part of the Brexit deal to effectively create a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Anger over the move forced a humbling late night U-turn from the European Commission, which first triggered Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol amid a row with AstraZeneca over slow supplies of its jab to the bloc.
While Britain has already inoculated 11 per cent of its population, the rollout on the Continent has been blighted by supply issues and the EU has demanded UK doses are instead diverted to the bloc.
French President Emmanuel Macron poured petrol on the rift yesterday when he baselessly claimed there was no evidence the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot worked in over-65s, despite it gaining approval from the EU regulator.
Today former Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said the EU's now-axed move to halt the free flow of goods on vaccine exports on the island of Ireland with scant awareness of the sensitivities was an 'almost Trumpian act'.
The Tory MP added: 'The EU cocked up big time last night, but we all need to work in the interest of preserving Northern Ireland. It is not just a backdoor for goods going to Britain, it is a very sensitive place and we have a duty between the EU and UK to ensure there is no hard border.'
His remarks echoed the fury expressed by leaders yesterday on both sides of the Irish sea, who were up in arms after being blindsided by Brussels.
Ireland's Taoiseach Micheal Martin said he had raised objections to EU leaders and Boris Johnson said he had 'grave concerns'.
Stormont's first minister Arlene Foster called the move an 'incredible act of hostility' and this morning said the rift emanated from the 'EU's vaccine embarrassment and mismanagement'.
Michel Barnier, who was the EU's chief Brexit negotiator in the trade deal struck only 29 days ago, today tried to cool tensions and appealed for 'cooperation'.
EU sources admitted invoking Article 16 was a 'misjudgment', but the Commission made clear it would still press ahead with plans for wider export controls that could disrupt UK supplies of 3.5million Pfizer jabs, which are made in Belgium.
As leaders were left reeling from the EU's incendiary move:
  • An EU bid to pressure AstraZeneca into diverting vaccine supplies from the UK backfired after lawyers said there was no contractual reason to do so;
  • European regulators finally gave approval for the firm's vaccine, a month after it won the green light in the UK;
  • The Croatian prime minister appeared to accuse the UK of 'vaccine hijacking' by 'offering more money' for doses;
  • France's Emmanuel Macron gave an incendiary interview in which he wrongly claimed the AstraZeneca vaccine was 'quasi-ineffective' in older people;
  • The UK vaccination programme powered ahead, with 15 per cent of adults having now received their dose – roughly seven times the figure in the EU;
  • A one-shot vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson cleared its penultimate hurdle, with the UK in line for 30million doses;
  • France announced it was closing its borders to non-EU countries except for 'essential' travel.
Boris Johnson said he had 'grave concerns'


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Ursula von der Leyen


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Politicians in London, Dublin and Belfast rounded on Brussels (right, Ursula von der Leyen) for unilaterally overriding part of the Brexit deal to effectively create a hard border on the island of Ireland. Boris Johnson (left)said he had 'grave concerns'
The move has been slammed by Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster (pictured), who tonight accused the EU of an 'incredible act of hostility'


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The move has been slammed by Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster (pictured), who tonight accused the EU of an 'incredible act of hostility'
The UK has streaked ahead of Europe in terms of the number of vaccines administered, and has now jabbed more than 7million people compared to Germany's 2million


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The UK has streaked ahead of Europe in terms of the number of vaccines administered, and has now jabbed more than 7million people compared to Germany's 2million
What is Article 16 and why has the EU invoked it?
Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol allows either the EU or the UK to override part of the Brexit trade agreement in relation to border controls in Northern Ireland.
The protocol itself was designed to avoid a re-emergence of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
But in the deal, both parties agreed to a get-out clause, which could be used if the protocol was thought to be causing 'serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties'.
However the EU has now invoked the clause, to put measures on vaccines coming from the EU to Northern Ireland.
The move is being introduced amid a huge row between the UK and EU over vaccines supplies, with Brussels accusing the UK of 'hijacking doses'.
The row started after Oxford vaccine maker AstraZeneca announced it would not be able to supply as many vaccines as it had first hoped to the EU by Spring.
The EU has since unveiled plans for an export ban which could stop 3.5million Pfizer vaccines - made in Belgium - from being exported to the UK.
The aim of this move will be to prevent the possibility of the UK bringing vaccines into Northern Ireland 'through the backdoor', by using the controls-free border to bring in vaccines from the EU.


In a late-night statement, the Commission said: 'To tackle the current lack of transparency of vaccine exports outside the EU, the Commission is putting in place a measure requiring that such exports are subject to an authorisation by Member States.
'In the process of finalisation of this measure, the Commission will ensure that the Ireland / Northern Ireland Protocol is unaffected. The Commission is not triggering the safeguard clause.
'Should transits of vaccines and active substances toward third countries be abused to circumvent the effects of the authorisation system, the EU will consider using all the instruments at its disposal.
'In the process of finalising the document, the commission will also be fine-tuning the decision-making process under the implementing regulation.'
Mr Smith, who as Northern Ireland Secretary brokered a power-sharing arrangement in Stormont, said the EU's move offered no understanding of the delicate political landscape of the island of Ireland.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today: 'Years have been spent trying to ensure goods will flow freely and there will be no hard border and last night the EU pulled the emergency cord without following any of the process that are in the protocol if one side wants to suspend it.
'And they did that, in my view, without anywhere near the understanding of the Good Friday Agreement, of the sensitivity of the situation in Northern Ireland, and it was an almost Trumpian act.'
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the EU U-turn was 'welcome' but added 'lessons should be learned'.
In a statement on Twitter, he said: 'Welcome news, but lessons should be learned; the Protocol is not something to be tampered with lightly, it's an essential, hard won compromise, protecting peace & trade for many.'
The EU's reversal came after Brussels had earlier rode roughshod over the Brexit agreement by imposing controls on the export of jabs to this country, including Northern Ireland.
The bloc unilaterally invoked emergency powers in the withdrawal deal to stop Northern Ireland being used as a 'back door' for the export of jabs into the rest of the UK.
Westminster and Dublin were in lockstep last night with their condemnation. A Number 10 spokesperson last night said Mr Johnson had spoken to Mr Martin and expressed his 'concern' about the EU's power-play.
Mr Johnson had demanded that the EU 'urgently clarify its intentions' and 'what steps it plans to take to ensure its own commitments with regards to Northern Ireland are fully honoured'.
A No 10 spokesman added: 'The UK has legally-binding agreements with vaccine suppliers and it would not expect the EU, as a friend and ally, to do anything to disrupt the fulfilment of these contracts.'
Brussels had triggered the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol just 29 days after the UK and EU struck the post-Brexit trade deal when Britain left the transition period.
The EU's chief negotiator in that agreement, Mr Barnier, today called for 'co-operation' between Brussels and the UK over the supply of vaccines across Europe.
Mr Barnier told The Times: 'We are facing an extraordinarily serious crisis, which is creating a lot of suffering, which is causing a lot of deaths in the UK, in France, in Germany, everywhere.
'And I believe we must face this crisis with responsibility, certainly not with the spirit of oneupmanship or unhealthy competition. I recommend preserving the spirit of co-operation between us.'
It comes after the EU's vaccine war entered a dangerous new phase last night as the bloc introduced rules that will allow it to block life-saving jabs getting to Britain and European politicians accused the UK of 'hijacking' doses.
The new controls, which will come into effect on Saturday and last until March, allow the EU to keep track of all vaccines produced on the continent and block exports to certain countries - including the UK, which is expecting to take delivery of another 3.5million Pfizer BioNTech jabs from Belgium in the coming weeks.
The rules also back-date to three months ago, giving Brussels the ability to snoop on past vaccine shipments after Brussels accused AstraZeneca of sending doses meant for Europe to Britain.
Health minister Stella Kyriakides insisted that the 'transparency mechanism' is not intended to target any country, even as Croatia's PM branded the UK 'hijackers' while the EU's justice commissioner said Britain had started a 'war'.
 
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