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Coronavirus vaccine wars intensify in Europe

LONDON

A spat between the UK and EU is brewing Friday regarding the bloc’s newly introduced export controls on the coronavirus vaccine flow to Northern Ireland.  

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the bloc must “urgently clarify” its intentions after the EU introduced controls on vaccines to be exported to Northern Ireland.

According to the EU’s decision, all vaccine suppliers, which have vaccine contracts with the bloc, will have to seek authorization on their exports.

The exports can be stopped if the EU sees them as a threat to the delivery of vaccines to citizens on time.

Downing Street warned the EU about counter action, expressing "concern" about the move to potentially stop the unimpeded flow of jabs into the region.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster said the EU’s move was an "incredible act of hostility" that places a "hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

"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,” Foster said. "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."   

 

Phone diplomacy

Telephone diplomacy among several leaders continued late Friday as Foster held talks with Johnson and Cabinet minister Michael Gove, calling for “robust action.”

Irish premier Michael Martin expressed concerns to European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen.

Gove talked to European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic to express the UK's concern regarding the decision.

A Downing Street spokesperson said Johnson had a "constructive discussion" with his Irish counterpart.

“The PM set out his concerns about the EU's use of Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol and what these actions may mean for the two communities in Northern Ireland," the spokesperson said.

Johnson also “stressed the UK's enduring commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and said the EU must urgently clarify its intentions and what steps it plans to take to ensure its own commitments with regards to Northern Ireland are fully honoured," according to a statement.

"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 fulfillment of these contracts," the spokesperson added.

The EU’s action came following a vaccine shortage across member states as AstraZeneca, with which the EU has a 400 million dose order, delivered high numbers of doses to the UK.

The bloc invoked Article 16 of Brexit's Northern Ireland Protocol to stop the unfettered flow of inoculations from the EU to the region in a bid to stop the UK region from being used as a back door to the UK in vaccine flow.

Media reports in the UK suggested late Friday that the EU would soon withdraw Article 16.

Article 16 is a clause in the Northern Ireland Protocol, signed between the UK and EU as part of the Brexit Agreement, which gives power to the bloc to halt movement of goods between Northern Ireland and member states when it sees necessary.

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