The EU is introducing controls on block-made vaccines, including in Northern Ireland amid a series of supply bottlenecks

As part of the Brexit agreement, all products should be exported from the EU to Northern Ireland without any controls

However, the EU felt that this could be used to bypass export controls, with NI becoming a backdoor for the whole of the UK

The first woman minister of NI, Arlene Foster, described the move as “an incredible act of hostility” by the EU

The EU relied on Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which allows parts of the agreement to be repealed unilaterally

In a new regulation, the European Commission stated: “This is justified as a protective measure under Article 16 of this Protocol to avert serious social difficulties due to insufficient supplies that threaten to disrupt the proper implementation of vaccination campaigns in the Member States”

The bloc agreed to buy up to 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine last year, and on Friday the EU Medicines Agency approved its use for all adults

However, the company said that due to problems at one of its EU plants, supply would be reduced by around 60% in the first quarter of 2021

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The UK government is urging the European Commission to provide a statement on the statements made today by the EU and for assurances of its intentions

“The UK has legally binding agreements with vaccine suppliers and would not expect the EU, as a friend and ally, to do anything to disrupt the performance of those contracts

“The UK Government has reiterated the importance of upholding the benefits of the Belfast and Good Friday Accords and the commitments made to the two communities”

The Prime Minister spoke to Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheal Martin on Friday evening and stressed the need for the EU to clarify its intentions

An Irish government spokesman said Mr Martin is currently in talks with the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von Der Leyen, to express Dublin’s concerns

The Northern Ireland Protocol is a special agreement to prevent the re-emergence of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was agreed in the original Readmission Agreement, is essentially a safeguard that would allow the UK or the EU to act unilaterally when measures imposed under the Protocol are considered to be ” seriously economic ” social or environmental difficulties “

Unionist politicians in Northern Ireland have campaigned for the UK government to use Article 16 to reduce controls on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK

During the Brexit process, the EU insisted vehemently that there could be no border on the island of Ireland. For a while, the entire trade deal depended on it

The question is, can the EU decide to push this button, what else could they use it for in the future?

Those who strongly oppose the Brexit agreements in Northern Ireland will now push the UK even harder to use Article 16 to override parts of the agreement for their own purposes

The EU move should not directly penalize Northern Ireland, which receives its vaccine supplies through the UK procurement system

“The government has signed contracts with AstraZeneca & to ensure vaccines are delivered on schedule & guarantees reliable vaccine supplies across the UK, “tweeted Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis

Politicians who support the Northern Ireland Protocol have reacted with dismay, fearing that the EU move could undermine the entire agreement

Louise Haigh MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland, said the move was “deeply destabilizing and undermines the tremendous efforts being made to make the protocol work”

For her part, DUP chairman Arlene Foster said the EU had laid a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

“By triggering Article 16 in this way, the European Union has shown once again that it is ready to use Northern Ireland if it suits its interests, but in the most despicable way – by providing a vaccine that will save lives supposed to, “she said

“At the first opportunity, the EU put a hard line between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland across the coronavirus vaccine supply chain

“With the European Union using Article 16 so aggressively and extremely shamefully, now is the time for our government to step up”

Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol is a protective mechanism. Similar measures are often found in a variety of trade agreements

It allows either the UK or the EU to take unilateral action if the application of the Protocol creates serious “economic, social or environmental difficulties” that may persist

It does not define what “serious” means, but Article 16 is for emergency use only. The fact that the EU has chosen to invoke it shows how seriously it takes its vaccine deficiency

But how will Britain react? If Northern Ireland could become a back door for vaccines to be brought into the UK from the EU, couldn’t the same point be argued the other way around?

“I will urge the Prime Minister to act,” she says, “and take robust action, including Article 16, to advance the interests of Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK””

There have been many people who have urged the government to invoke Article 16 to alleviate the trade problems that have arisen between the UK and Northern Ireland since the beginning of the year

That’s because the UK is now outside of the EU’s single market, but Northern Ireland still follows a lot of single market rules

Sinn Fein Leader Mary Lou McDonald described the EU’s use of Article 16 as a “grave error”

“Our citizens need timely access to life-saving vaccines, not trade disputes,” she tweeted, “Now is a time for cool heads and solidarity”

Steve Aiken, chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party, said the UK government should refer to Article 16 now in response to EU action

Alliance party leader Naomi Long said it needed “maximum cooperation” and not “obstructive behavior” by the EU

Last week, AstraZeneca said vaccine supplies would be reduced due to problems in one of its EU factories

The shortfall is projected to be around 60% in the first quarter of 2021.The EU has also received fewer than expected doses of the other two vaccines it has approved – from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna

The EU has stated that AstraZeneca must meet its obligations and deliver the batches it has ordered by diverting cans made in the UK The company said its contract for deliveries to the UK prohibits this as it has to fulfill the UK order, before it could send deliveries abroad

However, an EU source familiar with the matter told the BBC that AstraZeneca’s UK facilities are required by law to do so, saying “This is not an option, it is a contractual obligation”

The UK plants are not a backup facility They are part of the main network, the source added

The company’s CEO, Soriot, said earlier this week that the contract required AstraZeneca to use its “best efforts” to meet EU demand without forcing it to stick to any schedule – an allegation that is denied by the EU

“There are binding orders and the contract is crystal clear,” said the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on Friday morning in an interview with German radio

“‘Best Effort’ was valid while it was unclear whether they could develop a vaccine That time is behind us The vaccine is here”

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World news – GB – Brexit: The EU introduces NI controls for vaccines