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.
According to a Commission communication, the European Commission gave in until late in the evening and pledged to leave the Northern Ireland Protocol “untouched” in export controls on vaccines. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had previously called on the European Commission to immediately issue a statement of its intentions regarding possible controls at the Irish-Northern Ireland border and expressed “grave concern”.
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.
An initial EU statement initially gave the impression that Brussels wanted to set in motion an emergency mechanism that would allow checks at the inland 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 likely wanted to protect itself from unregulated vaccine doses that would reach Britain through Northern Ireland as a back door.
Late in the evening, Brussels made it clear: “The Commission is not activating the protective measures clause.” However, if vaccines are exported to third countries without authorization, the EU will use all available means. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who had also previously spoken to Johnson on the phone, tweeted that she had agreed with Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin on a “satisfactory way” to control vaccine exports. Further details will be announced on Saturday.
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 said. This is an “incredible act of hostility” and an “aggressive and shameful procedure”.