EU vaccine row: Why did the European Commission revoke Article 16?

EU ‘between a rock and a hard place’ on rollout says Stubb

The EU has backtracked on a controversial decision to override an element of the Brexit deal after the ongoing row about Covid vaccines deepened this week. The bloc provoked unbelievable backlash when it decided to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which would have seen checks at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland to prevent any shipments of coronavirus vaccines making it to the UK.

The move caused serious concern throughout the UK and Ireland on Friday evening.

The EU has previously lectured the UK Government about respecting the Irish Protocol in Brexit dealings last year – but were quick to undermine their own agreement.

The bloc attempted to trigger the clause without even consulting Ireland, which is still a part of the EU.

Brussels has been under fire recently for failing to secure vaccines for the EU’s population – while the UK races ahead, with nearly 7.5 million people having received their first jab.

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The move has been extremely damaging to the Commission’s reputation.

Late on Friday evening, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen issued a statement saying it was backtracking on its move.

The European Commission statement read: “To tackle the current lack of transparency of vaccine exports outside the EU, the Commission is putting in place a measure requiring that such exports are subject to an authorisation by Member States.

“In the process of finalisation of this measure, the Commission will ensure that the Ireland / Northern Ireland Protocol is unaffected. The Commission is not triggering the safeguard clause.

“Should transits of vaccines and active substances toward third countries be abused to circumvent the effects of the authorisation system, the EU will consider using all the instruments at its disposal.

“In the process of finalising the document, the Commission will also be fine-tuning the decision-making process under the implementing regulation.

“The final version of the implementing regulation will be published following its adoption tomorrow.”

The EU has had a woeful record so far in its battle to get residents in the Member States vaccinated following an issue in the supply chain and an ongoing row with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, who manufactures the Oxford vaccine.

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Why did the EU revoke Article 16?

The move caused considerable tension between Ireland, the UK and the bloc.

Ms von der Leyen said the backtrack came after “constructive talks” with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

All five parties in NI’s devolved Government also said the move was unwelcome, as well as the Tiasiech Micheál Martin.

What is Article 16?

The Brexit deal secured just before the new year guarantees an open border between the EU and Northern Ireland, with no controls on exported goods.

Article 16, which the EU invoked last night, allows either party to suspend any aspects believed to be causing “economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.

The bloc announced it would trigger the clause, which would introduce export controls on the border between NI and Ireland.

The EU said its actions were justified to avert lack of supply by stopping jabs being sent to the wider UK from EU member states through NI.

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