The First Minister of Northern Ireland has accused the EU of committing “a hostile and aggressive act” after it appeared to move to restrict exports of COVID-19 vaccines to Northern Ireland.
This would mean checks on vaccine exports at the Irish border, which Arlene Foster said would be akin to putting a hard border between Northern Ireland and EU member Republic of Ireland.
Keeping an open border between the two countries was a key sticking point throughout Brexit negotiations for more than four years, and is a crucial part of the Good Friday peace agreement.
The EU uploaded a regulation to its website on Friday evening declaring it was triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, which allows the EU to override the part of the Brexit agreement which ensures free passage of goods between the Irish border.
There is however confusion over whether Article 16 was being triggered, with the regulation being deleted from the EU’s website.
Euronews’ political editor Darren McCaffrey reports the EU is to give clarification on the issue, and that Article 16 will not be triggered after all.
The apparent move followed the EU’s decision to put controls on exports of COVID-19 vaccines, amid a row over the number of AstraZeneca’s vaccine doses set to arrive in the EU being greatly reduced, and worries over an EU-UK vaccine war.
“They are trying to stop the supply of a vaccine into the UK. For years we were told after the EU referendum vote that there couldn’t be a hard border on the island of Ireland. And in one fell swoop they have put that hard border in place,” Foster said.
Foster called on the UK government to take “robust measures” to deal with the issue.
A statement from the UK government said: “Brussels urgently needs to explain what is going on.”
Under the Brexit deal all products should be exported from the EU to Northern Ireland without checks.
Triggering Article 16 is within the Brexit deal, but it would be an extreme move.
The EU tightened rules on exports of vaccines, and triggering Article 16 is seen as an attempt to prevent Northern Ireland from being used as a backdoor into Britain.