Vaccine row explodes as EU triggers article 16 and is condemned in Belfast, Dublin and London

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The EU’s decision to trigger a Brexit clause to block the export of Covid vaccines to Northern Ireland has been roundly condemned in Belfast, Dublin and London.

The governments of the UK and Ireland have held “frantic talks” to try and “avert a full scale crisis” after the European commission triggered article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol of the Brexit agreement, effectively creating a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s first minister Arlene Foster has called on the UK government to take “robust measures” against the EU, commenting: “This is an incredibly hostile and aggressive act by the European Union bloc. They are trying to stop the supply of vaccine –  a vaccine designed to save lives – into the United Kingdom.

“For years we were told…there couldn’t be a hard border on the island of Ireland, and in one fell swoop they have put that hard border in place.”

The DUP leader urged “our own government, the government of the United Kingdom” to take “robust measures to deal with this issue – including triggering article 16 – because of course we need to deal with the supply of critical goods into Northern Ireland as well.”

EU feared Northern Ireland back door for vaccines to UK

Downing Street said it is “urgently seeking an explanation” from the EU over their decision to temporarily override part of the Brexit agreement relating to Northern Ireland.

The row over vaccines has been escalating all week following AstraZeneca’s inability to deliver the number of doses ordered by Europe. The EU ramped up pressure by granting its member states the power to prevent the export of doses outside the bloc and was reportedly worried that Northern Ireland may be used as a back door into the rest of the UK.

As Foster reminded, the EU had insisted all the way through the four-and-a-half years of Brexit negotiations that there could be no hard border on the island or Ireland – and that goods must be able to flow freely between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

However, today’s contentious decision to invoke article 16 suggests a massive shift on a point of principle when it comes to Covid vaccines, with the move effectively creating a hard border in contravention of the Good Friday Agreement.

‘Explosive political implications’

The Europe correspondent for the Irish Times Naomi O’Leary tonight reported taoiseach Micheál Martin held discussions with the president of the European commission, Ursula von der Leyen “amid deep unhappiness in the Irish government at the use of Article 16”.

O’Leary quotes an Irish government source regarding the EU’s move as “completely unnecessary” with “explosive political implications”.

Harry Yorke, the Whitehall editor for the Daily Telegraph later tweeted that Number 10 set out its concerns about the triggering of article 16 in talks with Martin, quoting a Downing Street source who said: “The PM stressed the UK’s enduring commitment to the Belfast/GFA and said the EU must urgently clarify its intentions”.

The Conservative MP Michael Fabricant tweeted: “The EU succeeds in uniting Ireland and the United Kingdom.”

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