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European press puts boot into EU over efforts to introduce checks at Northern Ireland border

European newspapers lashed out EU leaders on Saturday after the bloc tried to impose Covid vaccine controls on the Northern Ireland border.   

EU chiefs had been accused of an ‘incredible act of hostility’ after announcing controls on the export of jabs to the UK, including Northern Ireland.

In a move which would have effectively created a ‘hard border’ on the island of Ireland, EU officials had planned to override part of the Brexit trade agreement and demand checks of vaccines flowing from Europe into Northern Ireland. 

But in a major climb-down, hours after announcing the proposals, bloc leaders quickly reversed the decision and say they will now no longer go ahead with the controls.

On Saturday, the London correspondent for Germany’s Die Welt paper savaged European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen, saying she had committed an ‘unforgettable Brexit own goal’. 

France’s Le Monde editorial called the move ‘deplorable’, adding that Von Der Leyen had ‘fortunately’ given up on the inflammatory border decision.

Ireland’s papers also highlighted the fierce backlash against the EU’s actions, with the Irish Times saying there had been a ‘political uproar’ and The Journal saying they had caused ‘alarm across the political spectrum’.

European newspapers lashed out EU leaders on Saturday after the bloc tried to impose Covid vaccine controls on the Northern Ireland border. A leading correspondent for Germany’s Die Welt paper savaged European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen, saying she had committed an ‘unforgettable Brexit own goal’

France's Le Monde editorial called the move 'deplorable', adding that Von Der Leyen had 'fortunately' given up on the inflammatory border decision

France’s Le Monde editorial called the move ‘deplorable’, adding that Von Der Leyen had ‘fortunately’ given up on the inflammatory border decision

Die Welt’s Stefanie Bolzen wrote that Von Der Leyen was ‘undermining the Union’s credibility with her actions’. 

She claimed that the ‘Anglophile’ EU chief had undermined good relations with the UK in an attempt to ‘distract from her own mistakes’. 

What is Article 16 and why has the EU invoked it? 

Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol allows either the EU or the UK to override part of the Brexit trade agreement in relation to border controls in Northern Ireland.

The protocol itself was designed to avoid a re-emergence of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. 

But in the deal, both parties agreed to a get-out clause, which could be used if the protocol was thought to be causing ‘serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties’.  

However the EU has now invoked the clause, to put measures on vaccines coming from the EU to Northern Ireland.

The move is being introduced amid a huge row between the UK and EU over vaccines supplies, with Brussels accusing the UK of ‘hijacking doses’.

The row started after Oxford vaccine maker AstraZeneca announced it would not be able to supply as many vaccines as it had first hoped to the EU by Spring.

The EU has since unveiled plans for an export ban which could stop 3.5million Pfizer vaccines – made in Belgium – from being exported to the UK.

The aim of this move will be to prevent the possibility of the UK bringing vaccines into Northern Ireland ‘through the backdoor’, by using the controls-free border to bring in vaccines from the EU. 

Bolzen also branded the move to invoke article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol as ‘absurd’, saying that EU leaders had ‘looked forward to cornering Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

She noted how the EU had only months ago cried ‘murder’ over clauses in the UK’s Internal Market Bill which would have allowed the UK to override the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.  

Bolzen also highlighted how the EU had previously ‘closed ranks’ around the Irish border issue, which Von Der Leyen seemed to have ‘completely forgotten’ in her ‘Corona panic’. 

France’s Le Monde was similarly scathing of the EU’s actions. 

In its editorial, the paper claimed there was ‘panic’ among EU leaders over its growing issue with vaccines supply and its row with Astra Zeneca. 

It said that Von Der Leyen ‘fortunately’ gave up on the move to invoke Article 16, adding that the EU was ‘ill-equipped’ to handle the coronavirus pandemic.  

‘It is deplorable that political interests and geopolitical rivalries take precedence over the issue that no one should lose sight of: vaccinating as many people as possible, in Europe and in the rest of the world,’ they added.

The Irish Times highlighted in a news article how there was a ‘deepening row’ over the plans to impose export controls on vaccines.

Its front page said Brussels was rowing back on the plan after what it described as ‘political uproar’.

Fellow Irish paper The Journal also noted how the EU’s intention to trigger Article 16 had caused ‘alarm across the political spectrum’.       

Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheal Martin last night raised objections to EU leaders, while Michel Barnier, who was the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said he was calling for ‘co-operation’ over vaccines between the UK and Brussels.

And in another strongly-worded statement, Boris Johnson last night said he had ‘grave concerns’ over the proposals and demanded the EU ‘urgently clarify its intentions’. 

But in a statement released late last night, the European Commission said: ‘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.

Die Welt's Stefanie Bolzen wrote that Von Der Leyen was 'undermining the Union's credibility with her actions'

Die Welt’s Stefanie Bolzen wrote that Von Der Leyen was ‘undermining the Union’s credibility with her actions’

‘In the process of finalising the document, the commission will also be fine-tuning the decision-making process under the implementing regulation.’

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the EU U-turn was ‘welcome’ but added ‘lessons should be learned’.

In a statement on Twitter, he said: ‘Welcome news, but lessons should be learned; the Protocol is not something to be tampered with lightly, it’s an essential, hard won compromise, protecting peace & trade for many.’

The reversal came after Brussels had earlier rode roughshod over the Brexit agreement by imposing controls on the export of jabs to this country, including Northern Ireland. 

The bloc unilaterally invoked emergency powers in the withdrawal deal to stop Northern Ireland being used as a ‘back door’ for the export of jabs into the rest of the UK. 

The move came after the EU publicly rowed with AstraZeneca over its delivery contract, unveiled plans to potentially block millions of jabs from being exported to Britain and was even reported to be considering seizing control of production sites.  

The Irish Times highlighted in a news article how there was a 'deepening row' over the plans to impose export controls on vaccines

The Irish Times highlighted in a news article how there was a ‘deepening row’ over the plans to impose export controls on vaccines

The plans to invoke article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol provoked a particular fury from UK politicians. 

It was slammed by the country’s First Minister, Arlene Foster, who accused the EU of an ‘incredible act of hostility’.

The furious First Minister said in a statement: ‘This is an incredible act of hostility. 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.

‘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.’ 

Ms Foster also called for Boris Johnson to step in and use ‘robust measures’ to ensure UK interests are put first.

Fellow Irish paper The Journal also noted how the EU's intention to trigger Article 16 had caused 'alarm across the political spectrum'.

Fellow Irish paper The Journal also noted how the EU’s intention to trigger Article 16 had caused ‘alarm across the political spectrum’.

Irish Premier Micheal Martin also raised concerns. An government spokesperson said: ‘We are aware of the issue and the Taoiseach is currently in discussions with European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen to express our concerns.’ 

A Number 10 spokesperson last night said Mr Johnson had spoken to Mr Martin and expressed his ‘concern’ about the EU’s power-play.

Mr Johnson also demanded that the EU ‘urgently clarify its intentions’ and ‘what steps it plans to take to ensure its own commitments with regards to Northern Ireland are fully honoured’. 

A No 10 spokesman added: ‘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.’  

Michael Gove lodged an angry protest with the vice-president of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, while Labour also condemned the move, with Northern Ireland spokesman Louise Haigh urging Brussels to reverse a ‘deeply destabilising’ decision.

Meanwhile, in an interview with The Times, Michel Barnier, who was the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said he was calling for ‘co-operation’ between Brussels and the UK over the supply of vaccines across Europe.

Mr Barnier said: ‘We are facing an extraordinarily serious crisis, which is creating a lot of suffering, which is causing a lot of deaths in the UK, in France, in Germany, everywhere.

‘And I believe we must face this crisis with responsibility, certainly not with the spirit of oneupmanship or unhealthy competition. I recommend preserving the spirit of co-operation between us.’ 

It comes after the EU’s vaccine war entered a dangerous new phase last night as the bloc introduced rules that will allow it to block life-saving jabs getting to Britain and European politicians accused the UK of ‘hijacking’ doses. 

The new controls, which will come into effect on Saturday and last until March, allow the EU to keep track of all vaccines produced on the continent and block exports to certain countries – including the UK, which is expecting to take delivery of another 3.5million Pfizer BioNTech jabs from Belgium in the coming weeks.

The rules also back-date to three months ago, giving Brussels the ability to snoop on past vaccine shipments after Brussels accused AstraZeneca of sending doses meant for Europe to Britain.

Health minister Stella Kyriakides insisted that the ‘transparency mechanism’ is not intended to target any country, even as Croatia’s PM branded the UK ‘hijackers’ while the EU’s justice commissioner said Britain had started a ‘war’.      

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