On Friday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told EU Chief Ursula von der Leyen of his “serious concerns” after Brussels partially suspended the terms of the Brexit agreement as part of an export control mechanism for vaccines.
According to his Downing Street office, Johnson spoke on the phone with the head of the EU and “expressed his grave concern about the potential impact that the steps taken by the EU today on vaccine exports could have.”
The EU export control scheme provides for the partial suspension of the terms of the Brexit agreement, which enables goods to flow across the Irish border.
British Minister Michael Gove called Maros Sefcovic, Vice President of the European Commission, to “express the UK’s concern about the lack of EU notification of its actions,” a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said.
The UK was, he said, “carefully considering its next steps.”
In the Brexit agreement, the Northern Ireland protocol allows goods to flow between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland without the need for border customs controls.
According to Article 16 of the Protocol, however, there is a provision for any party to unilaterally suspend the terms for particular products if the agreement results in ‘significant economic, social or environmental difficulties which are liable to continue.’
On Friday, Brussels invoked the article as part of a scheme to track and, in some cases, ban exports of vaccines manufactured in EU plants in the middle of a chain of supplies with the British-Swedish drug giant AstraZeneca.
The step brought both sides of the loyalist/republican divide of Northern Ireland together in condemnation.
Arlene Foster, leader of the loyalist Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, called a ‘incredible act of hostility’ the attempt to invoke Article 16.
She accused the EU of “most despicably using Northern Ireland over the provision of a vaccine designed to save lives.”
The move was a “disproportionate and grave error” by the EU, said Colum Eastwood, leader of the Republican SDLP faction.
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, said on Twitter that the government was “working with the EU Commission to try to solve this problem.”
The EU argued that the measures were “justified as a safeguard measure… to avoid serious societal difficulties due to a lack of supply threatening to interfere with the orderly implementation of vaccination campaigns in Member States.”
Due to mechanisms placed in place by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, there is little or no physical infrastructure on the border.
The deal put an end to decades of bloodshed between those who want to remain British in Northern Ireland and those who want it to be part of the Irish Republic.
In the talks between the two, maintaining a “soft” boundary was integral, with local officials warning of a possible return to violence.
This week, Brussels was in a furious dispute with AstraZeneca, accusing it of breaking its contract by halting deliveries to EU governments while keeping those under an agreement with the UK it had previously signed.
But Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health, insisted: “We are not protecting ourselves against any specific country.” And we are not competing or racing against any country.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN