Irish PM blasts the EU saying people were ‘blindsided’ (including him) by vaccine border threat

Ireland’s prime minister lashed out at the European Union today over its vaccines threat to Northern Ireland, admitting he was one of those ‘blindsided’ by the announcement. 

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said he had been given no advance notice of the intention by the EU to trigger Article 16 of the Brexit Protocol on Friday.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme that the first he was aware of it was a public announcement by the bloc on Friday night.

After invoking Article 16 to stop the unimpeded flow of vaccines from the European bloc into Northern Ireland, the EU later backtracked, following condemnation from London, Dublin and Belfast.

It is understood that a compromise will see vaccines crossing between the Republic and Northern Ireland being recorded in Dublin, but will not be at risk of being blocked.

Any move to prevent vaccines entering Ulster via the republic would effectively create a hard border that could have had serious ramifications for political stability.

The Taoiseach said he articulated the ‘very serious implications’ the move would have and engagement began between his office and the office of president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

‘I had a number of conversations with President von der Leyen and, in the aftermath of those, I also spoke, of course, to the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and we discussed the implications of all of this, and the importance of getting a resolution by the close of that evening, Friday evening, and thankfully the commission did issue a statement pulling back and reversing its decision.’

Mr Martin also criticised French president Emmanuel Macron for suggesting – contrary to all available evidence – that the AZ jab did not work for those aged over 65.

”I don’t think politicians should pronounce on the efficacy or otherwise of vaccines,’ the Irish leader said. 

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said he had been given no advance notice of the intention by the EU to trigger Article 16 of the Brexit Protocol on Friday

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said he had been given no advance notice of the intention by the EU to trigger Article 16 of the Brexit Protocol on Friday

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said he had been given no advance notice of the intention by the EU to trigger Article 16 of the Brexit Protocol on Friday

Boris Johnson handed the EU a stark warning that a vaccines blockade of Northern Ireland could kill British pensioners in ‘spicy’ late-night phone calls with Ursula von der Leyen.

The Prime Minister told the European Commission president that plans to stop 3.5 million doses from the Pfizer factory in Belgium the UK risked preventing people from receiving the second injection, forcing it into a hurried climbdown.

While a single vaccination gives some protection from coronavirus, both are needed to achieve the maximum impact and Mr Johnson told Ms von der Leyen the EU’s hardline plan could lead to the deaths of the most vulnerable, including elderly grandparents.

During two phone calls just 30 minutes apart, the Prime Minister made Ms von der Leyen abandon the ‘nuclear option’ of imposing a hard border on Northern Ireland to prevent vaccines reaching the UK.

She immediately capitulated in a tweet sent out shortly before midnight on Friday.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss this morning said it was important to ‘resist vaccine nationalism and protectionism’, adding: ‘The Prime Minister has spoken to Ursula von der Leyen. She’s been very clear those contractual supplies won’t be disrupted.’

Following the PM’s diplomatic victory, Britain yesterday recorded a daily record for first-dose jabs – 487,756 – to bring the total to almost 8.4 million.

 

However Mr Martin laid some blame at the door of AstraZeneca, saying there is a ‘strong sense across Europe’ that the Anglo-Sewdish jab manufacturer has not delivered on commitments around the vaccination.

‘My observation is that the terrible row is an acrimonious row between AstraZeneca and the (EU) Commission over the contractual obligations of the company in respect of supplying vaccines to European member states took centre stage here, and people were blindsided by the decision that was taken and the implications for the Protocol,’ he told Marr.

The Taoiseach stressed it took four years to negotiate the Protocol to facilitate access for Northern Ireland’s economy to the single market as well as to the UK market and to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

‘It’s a good thing, the Protocol, overall. There are issues there that we have to fine-tune and work out, but essentially I think there are positives there medium term for Northern Ireland in terms of its economic development which we should not underestimate.

‘We are only four weeks into the operation of the Protocol, there are bound to be teething problems but I do acknowledge the need for engagement here on all sides, between the European Union, the United Kingdom and the Irish Government, and the Northern Ireland Executive.’

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