European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced late on Friday that she had reached an agreement with the Prime Ministers of the UK and Ireland on the issue of restrictions to the export COVID-19 vaccines manufactured in Europe.
“Constructive talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson,” von der Leyen tweeted. “We agreed in principle that there should not be restrictions on the export of vaccines by companies where they are fulfilling contractual responsibilities that could compromise agreements concluded under Brexit with regard to Northern Ireland.”
Faced with delays in vaccine deliveries by the AstraZeneca lab, the EU on Friday set up a mechanism for controlling the export of COVID-19 vaccines produced in the EU and banning exports that are not “legitimate”. A text adopted on Friday by the Europeans would see Northern Ireland treated as an export territory where vaccines are concerned.
This runs counter to the EU-UK Northern Ireland protocol, aimed at avoiding the return of a border between EU-member Ireland and Northern Ireland. However, the EU invoked an article that allows it to take exceptional measures if the application of the protocol causes severe economic, social or environmental difficulties.
Prime Minister Johnson had expressed grave concern over the measure’s potential repercussions in his discussion with von der Leyen, his spokesman said. The spokesman added the UK had legally binding agreements with vaccine suppliers and did not expect the EU, as an ally and friend, to do anything to hamper the application of those contracts.
The text had also aroused the anger of the authorities of Northern Ireland, whose First Minister Arlene Foster described it as a hostile act.
Von der Leyen tweeted late Friday that she “spoke to Taoiseach Micheal Martin this evening to agree on a satisfactory way to introduce an export authorisation mechanism for COVID vaccines.”
The UK imports Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines from a factory in Belgium.
The EU had also called on the AstraZeneca laboratory to use the vaccines produced in labs in the UK, which it approved on Friday, to supply the doses promised to the EU 27. This could set back the vaccination programme rolled out by the UK authorities, who authorised the vaccine weeks ago.