London / Brussels (dpa) – The dispute over the supply of vaccines between the EU and the British-Swedish company Astrazeneca turned into a diplomatic crisis between London and Brussels on Friday.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on the European Commission to immediately explain its intentions regarding possible controls at the Irish-Northern Ireland border. In a conversation with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, he expressed “serious concerns”, according to information from London.
The EU announced on Friday that it would submit future vaccine exports to approval after Astrazeneca announced it could make only a fraction of the promised supply. Vaccines produced in the EU are believed to have been supplied to third countries such as Great Britain.
In a text on the EU website on Friday evening, the impression was given that Brussels wanted to activate an emergency mechanism that would allow checks at the inner Irish border. The move, which was apparently not coordinated with Dublin or London, aroused outrage in Britain and especially Northern Ireland.
The EU statement, which was later removed from the website, referred to Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which provides unilateral safeguards in the event of unexpected negative effects of the deal. In this particular case, the EU wants to protect itself against unregulated vaccine doses reaching Britain via Northern Ireland as a back door.
A statement from the government in London said Johnson had spoken with Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin about what the activation of the mechanism could mean for communities in Northern Ireland.
The European Union and the United Kingdom have only one land border, which runs between the EU member state of Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland. However, in the course of the Brexit negotiations it was agreed that no checks should take place at this border so as not to endanger the fragile peace in Northern Ireland’s former civil war region.
Northern Ireland’s Prime Minister Arlene Foster has accused the EU of an “act of hostility” in connection with the corona vaccine dispute. The EU is creating a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, as the Northern Ireland Protocol should actually prevent, Foster wrote on Twitter Friday evening. This is an “incredible act of hostility” and an “aggressive and shameful procedure”.
Initially, cautious tones came from Brussels: some aspects of the regulation are still “under discussion”, the German news agency learned from EU circles.