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EU withdraws plans to control exports of COVID vaccines into Northern Ireland – sources

Written by on 29/01/2021

The EU has withdrawn its plans to control the exports of COVID-19 vaccines into Northern Ireland following widespread condemnation.

Earlier on Friday, Brussels had triggered Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol that forms part of the Brexit withdrawal deal.

By doing so, the EU tried to stop the unimpeded flow of coronavirus jabs from the bloc into the region.

Brussels was attempting to prevent Northern Ireland being used as a back door to move COVID vaccines from the bloc into the rest of the UK.

But in a statement on Friday night, the EU said it was “not triggering the safeguard clause” to ensure the protocol is “unaffected”.

The controversy comes amid an EU row with vaccine maker AstraZeneca over delays in the delivery of doses to the 27 members of the bloc.

The EU bid to activate Article 16 had sparked a backlash among Northern Ireland politicians and was also criticised by Boris Johnson, with Downing Street warning Brussels not to disrupt the supply of inoculations.

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The prime minister told of his “grave concerns” over the EU move during a phone call with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

Earlier, Mr Johnson urged the EU to “urgently clarify its intentions” and detail how it will honour its commitments to the peace process, during a “constructive discussion” with Irish Premier Micheal Martin.

And a No 10 statement said: “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 fulfilment of these contracts.”

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Arlene Foster: ‘This is an incredibly hostile act by the EU’

Stormont’s First Minister Arlene Foster described the EU bid as an “incredible act of hostility” that places a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic over the vaccine supply chain.

Under the terms of the protocol, goods should be able to move freely between the EU and Northern Ireland as the region remains in the single market for goods and still operates under EU customs rules.

However, activating Article 16 meant Northern Ireland would be considered an export territory for the purposes of vaccines sent from the EU/Republic of Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s vaccines currently arrive from the rest of the UK so those are unaffected.

The European Commission earlier said: “Exports of goods from Northern Ireland to other parts of the United Kingdom cannot be restricted by Union law unless this is strictly required by international obligations of the Union.

“Therefore, movements of goods covered by this regulation between the Union and Northern Ireland should be treated as exports.”

It added: “This is justified as a safeguard measure pursuant to Article 16… in order to avert serious societal difficulties due to a lack of supply threatening to disturb the orderly implementation of the vaccination campaigns in the member states.”

 Sky News

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