- The dispute over vaccine supplies between the European Union and the British-Swedish company Astra-Zeneca turned into a diplomatic crisis between London and Brussels on Friday.
- Not late in the evening the European Union Commission gave in and promised to leave the Northern Ireland protocol “as is” in vaccine export controls, as stated in a letter from the Commission.
- Earlier, Northern Ireland’s Prime Minister Arlene Foster accused the European Union of committing a “hostile act”.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also called on the European Union Commission to immediately explain its intentions regarding possible controls at the Northern Irish border and expressed “grave concern”.
The European Union announced on Friday that it would subject export of vaccines to approval in the future after Astra-Zeneca announced that it could only deliver a fraction of the promised delivery. The assumption is that vaccines produced in the European Union were delivered to third countries such as Great Britain.
In the first announcement by the European Union, the impression was initially given that Brussels wanted to activate an emergency mechanism that would allow control of the internal Irish borders. The move, which was not apparently coordinated with Dublin or London, sparked outrage in Great Britain and especially in Northern Ireland.
The EU statement, which was later removed from the website, referred to Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which allows for unilateral guarantees in the event of unforeseen negative effects of the deal. In this particular case, the European Union may have wanted to protect itself from unregulated doses of vaccine arriving in Great Britain via Northern Ireland as a back door.
Late in the evening, Brussels clarified: “The commission is not activating the safeguards clause.” However, if vaccines are exported to third countries without permission, the European Union will use all available means.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who had previously also spoken with Johnson by phone, tweeted that she had agreed with Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin on a “satisfactory method” to monitor vaccine exports. More details are due to be announced on Saturday.
Fears difficult limit
The European Union and the United Kingdom have only one land border, which stretches between European Union member Ireland and British Northern Ireland. However, in the context of the Brexit negotiations, it was agreed that no controls would be imposed on these borders in order not to jeopardize the fragile peace in the former civil war zone in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland Prime Minister Arlene Foster accused the European Union of committing a “hostile act” in connection with the coronavirus vaccine dispute. Foster said the EU is creating a solid border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and the Northern Ireland Protocol should actually prevent it.