EU vaccine row: Barnier warning as bloc backtracks on Brexit clause – ‘Unhealthy’

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It came as Brussels withdrew its plan to control vaccine exports to Northern Ireland. On Friday, Brussels had initially invoked Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol which is part of the post-Brexit deal.

The move would have stopped the unhindered supply of coronavirus jabs from the bloc into the UK.

The EU’s intentions were to prevent Northern Ireland from being used as a door to move vaccines from mainland Europe to Britain.

Many countries in Europe have struggled to vaccinate their populations as rapidly as the UK has done in recent months.

But the EU’s Brexit negotiator has warned Brussels against exacerbating the vaccine row.

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Mr Barnier told The Times he is calling for a “spirit of cooperation” in order to save the EU’s future relationship with Britain.

He 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 that we must face this crisis with responsibility, certainly not with the spirit of one upmanship or unhealthy competition.”

Mr Barnier added: “I recommend preserving the spirit of cooperation between us.

“This is the substance of my message today, because we are unfortunately going to have many chances in the coming years to show solidarity.

“Reciprocally. In the fight against terrorism, climate change, financial crises, disasters.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed his “grave concerns” about the EU’s initial plan to trigger Article 16 of the Protocol over a phone call with the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Ms von der Leyen tweeted later on Friday: “Constructive talks with Prime Minister @BorisJohnson tonight.

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“We agreed on the principle that there should not be restrictions on the export of vaccines by companies where they are fulfilling contractual responsibilities.”

UK politicians criticised the EU over its intention to affect the Northern Ireland Protocol and claimed the move would create a “hard border” with the Republic of Ireland.

In a statement, 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.”

Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheál Martin welcomed Brussels’ reversal on the Protocol.

He described it as a “positive development given the many challenges we face in tackling Covid-19”.

Under the post-Brexit deal, an open border between the EU and Northern Ireland was agreed with no controls on exported products.

But Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol states that Brussels and the UK can choose to suspend any aspects they may consider to cause “economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.

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