Brussels u-turn over vaccine border blunder
EU officials attempted to reimpose controls on the border
Brussels has been forced into a humiliating U-turn over attempts to trigger a clause in the Brexit deal that would have imposed border controls in Northern Ireland.
The European commission had planned to create a “vaccine border” which could have seen checks at the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland to prevent shipments entering the UK.
The move was seen as a bid to prevent it becoming a backdoor for jabs to be sent to the UK mainland.
It said the actions were “justified” to avert a problem of supplies reaching the EU.
To ensure doses could not pass into the UK through Northern Ireland, the commission wanted to trigger a clause in the withdrawal agreement to allow it to control exports between the south and north of the island of Ireland.
But all five parties in Northern Ireland’s devolved government and Irish prime minister Micheál Martin joined the UK government in condemning the move.
Arlene Foster: move was ‘despicable’
EU sources last night admitted it had acted “in error”.
The incident proved embarrassing to the EU and gave Brexiteers an opportunity to gloat over what was deemed a major blunder and justification for leaving the bureaucratic bloc.
Brussels had previously lectured the UK government about respecting the Irish Protocol but the EU’s attempt to invoke Article 16 – that allows for the reimposition of Irish border controls – made it appear quick to undermine the agreement.
The First Minister of Northern Ireland 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
“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.”
Ireland complained that it had not even been consulted by Brussels before it made its move.
The incident ended a week of chaos around the EU’s vaccine rollout and accusations among members states that it has been slow to sign vaccine contracts with pharmaceutical companies. The German media was among those to complement the UK on its handling of the vaccine programme.