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EU u-turns on invoking Northern Ireland safeguard mechanism




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Today’s (29 January) Commission announcement on a temporary transparency and authorization mechanism on vaccines backfired when it became clear that it could potentially trigger the safeguarding mechanism (Article 16) of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The realization that the European Commission had invoked the article to avoid vaccines being routed through Northern Ireland to Great Britain, should an export restriction be imposed - however unlikely - provoked strong reactions from politicians in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the UK.

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to trigger article 16 in retaliation. In a video message Foster claimed that the EU was trying to block the supply of a vaccine into the United Kingdom and “in one fell swoop” had reintroduced a hard border:

A spokesperson for the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the Prime Minister had spoken with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and had expressed his “grave concerns about the potential impact which the steps the EU has taken today on vaccine exports could have.”


The Irish Taoiseach and his foreign minister Simon Coveney, who had been heavily involved in every aspect of the Brexit negotiations, also weighed in with their concerns:

The European Commission issued a statement late this evening defending the need for transparency of vaccine exports, but clarified that: “In the process of finalization of this measure, the Commission will ensure that the Ireland / Northern Ireland Protocol is unaffected. The Commission is not triggering the safeguard clause.” However, it left the possibility of the EU considering “all the instruments at its disposal” should it discover that vaccines and related active substances were being transferred to third countries to circumvent the authorization system.

The Commission added that it would 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 issue is deeply controversial in Northern Ireland, as Unionist politicians have called for the triggering of Article 16 because of reduced trade to Northern Ireland from Great Britain because of the additional costs involved since the end of the Brexit transition period. The UK government have rebuffed these requests. With today’s developments, the invocation of article 16 by the European Commission has made it more difficult for the government to ignore Unionist requests.

A deeper crisis has been averted.

The Irish Taoiseach welcomed the latest developments


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