'The EU cocked up big time': Desperate Brussels bullies are ridiculed after axing 'Trumpian' plan to stop Covid vaccine entering the UK by introducing Northern Ireland border controls - but they WILL push export ban that could hit 3.5m doses

  • Move would have meant border controls between Ireland and Northern Ireland - essentially a 'hard border'
  • Northern Ireland's Arlene Foster called it 'incredible act of hostility' while Boris Johnson had 'grave concerns' 
  • But the EU has now backed down over the proposals and Brussels says they will no longer be put into place
  • Today EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier called for vaccine co-operation between Brussels and the UK 
  • Today former Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith called the move an 'almost Trumpian act' 
  • Europe has introduced new controls that give it powers to block vaccines being exported from the continent The EU was accused of 'cocking up big time' last night after announcing controls to stop vaccine exports reaching the UK through Northern Ireland - only to abruptly backtrack following widespread condemnation.

    Politicians in London, Dublin and Belfast rounded on Brussels for unilaterally overriding part of the Brexit deal to effectively create a hard border on the island of Ireland.

    Anger over the move forced a humbling late night U-turn from the European Commission, which first triggered Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol amid a row with AstraZeneca over slow supplies of its jab to the bloc.

    While Britain has already inoculated 11 per cent of its population, the rollout on the Continent has been blighted by supply issues and the EU has demanded UK doses are instead diverted to the bloc.

    French President Emmanuel Macron poured petrol on the rift yesterday when he baselessly claimed there was no evidence the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot worked in over-65s, despite it gaining approval from the EU regulator. 

    Today former Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith said the EU's now-axed move to halt the free flow of goods on vaccine exports on the island of Ireland with scant awareness of the sensitivities was an 'almost Trumpian act'.

    The Tory MP added: 'The EU cocked up big time last night, but we all need to work in the interest of preserving Northern Ireland. It is not just a backdoor for goods going to Britain, it is a very sensitive place and we have a duty between the EU and UK to ensure there is no hard border.'   

    His remarks echoed the fury expressed by leaders yesterday on both sides of the Irish sea, who were up in arms after being blindsided by Brussels.

    Ireland's Taoiseach Micheal Martin said he had raised objections to EU leaders and Boris Johnson said he had 'grave concerns'.

    Stormont's first minister Arlene Foster called the move an 'incredible act of hostility' and this morning said the rift emanated from the 'EU's vaccine embarrassment and mismanagement'. 

    Michel Barnier, who was the EU's chief Brexit negotiator in the trade deal struck only 29 days ago, today tried to cool tensions and appealed for 'cooperation'.  

    EU sources admitted invoking Article 16 was a 'misjudgment', but the Commission made clear it would still press ahead with plans for wider export controls that could disrupt UK supplies of 3.5million Pfizer jabs, which are made in Belgium.  

    As leaders were left reeling from the EU's incendiary move:  

    • An EU bid to pressure AstraZeneca into diverting vaccine supplies from the UK backfired after lawyers said there was no contractual reason to do so;
    • European regulators finally gave approval for the firm's vaccine, a month after it won the green light in the UK;
    •  The Croatian prime minister appeared to accuse the UK of 'vaccine hijacking' by 'offering more money' for doses;
    • France's Emmanuel Macron gave an incendiary interview in which he wrongly claimed the AstraZeneca vaccine was 'quasi-ineffective' in older people;
    • The UK vaccination programme powered ahead, with 15 per cent of adults having now received their dose – roughly seven times the figure in the EU;
    • A one-shot vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson cleared its penultimate hurdle, with the UK in line for 30million doses;
    • France announced it was closing its borders to non-EU countries except for 'essential' travel.The move has been slammed by Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster (pictured), who tonight accused the EU of an 'incredible act of hostility'

      The move has been slammed by Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster (pictured), who tonight accused the EU of an 'incredible act of hostility'

      The UK has streaked ahead of Europe in terms of the number of vaccines administered, and has now jabbed more than 7million people compared to Germany's 2million

      The UK has streaked ahead of Europe in terms of the number of vaccines administered, and has now jabbed more than 7million people compared to Germany's 2million 

      What is Article 16 and why has the EU invoked it? 

      Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol allows either the EU or the UK to override part of the Brexit trade agreement in relation to border controls in Northern Ireland.

      The protocol itself was designed to avoid a re-emergence of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. 

      But in the deal, both parties agreed to a get-out clause, which could be used if the protocol was thought to be causing 'serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties'.  

      However the EU has now invoked the clause, to put measures on vaccines coming from the EU to Northern Ireland.

      The move is being introduced amid a huge row between the UK and EU over vaccines supplies, with Brussels accusing the UK of 'hijacking doses'.

      The row started after Oxford vaccine maker AstraZeneca announced it would not be able to supply as many vaccines as it had first hoped to the EU by Spring.

      The EU has since unveiled plans for an export ban which could stop 3.5million Pfizer vaccines - made in Belgium - from being exported to the UK.

      The aim of this move will be to prevent the possibility of the UK bringing vaccines into Northern Ireland 'through the backdoor', by using the controls-free border to bring in vaccines from the EU. 

      In a late-night statement, the 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.

      'Should transits of vaccines and active substances toward third countries be abused to circumvent the effects of the authorisation system, the EU will consider using all the instruments at its disposal.

      'In the process of finalising the document, the commission will also be fine-tuning the decision-making process under the implementing regulation.' 

      Mr Smith, who as Northern Ireland Secretary brokered a power-sharing arrangement in Stormont, said the EU's move offered no understanding of the delicate political landscape of the island of Ireland.

      He told BBC Radio 4's Today: 'Years have been spent trying to ensure goods will flow freely and there will be no hard border and last night the EU pulled the emergency cord without following any of the process that are in the protocol if one side wants to suspend it.

      'And they did that, in my view, without anywhere near the understanding of the Good Friday Agreement, of the sensitivity of the situation in Northern Ireland, and it was an almost Trumpian act.'

      Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the EU U-turn was 'welcome' but added 'lessons should be learned'.

      In a statement on Twitter, he said: 'Welcome news, but lessons should be learned; the Protocol is not something to be tampered with lightly, it's an essential, hard won compromise, protecting peace & trade for many.'

      The EU's reversal came after Brussels had earlier rode roughshod over the Brexit agreement by imposing controls on the export of jabs to this country, including Northern Ireland. 

      The bloc unilaterally invoked emergency powers in the withdrawal deal to stop Northern Ireland being used as a 'back door' for the export of jabs into the rest of the UK.  

      Westminster and Dublin were in lockstep last night with their condemnation. A Number 10 spokesperson last night said Mr Johnson had spoken to Mr Martin and expressed his 'concern' about the EU's power-play.

      Mr Johnson had demanded that the EU 'urgently clarify its intentions' and 'what steps it plans to take to ensure its own commitments with regards to Northern Ireland are fully honoured'. 

      A No 10 spokesman added: 'The UK has legally-binding agreements with vaccine suppliers and it would not expect the EU, as a friend and ally, to do anything to disrupt the fulfilment of these contracts.' 

      Brussels had triggered the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol just 29 days after the UK and EU struck the post-Brexit trade deal when Britain left the transition period. 

      The EU's chief negotiator in that agreement, Mr Barnier, today called for 'co-operation' between Brussels and the UK over the supply of vaccines across Europe.

      Mr Barnier told The Times: '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 we must face this crisis with responsibility, certainly not with the spirit of oneupmanship or unhealthy competition. I recommend preserving the spirit of co-operation between us.' 

      It comes after the EU's vaccine war entered a dangerous new phase last night as the bloc introduced rules that will allow it to block life-saving jabs getting to Britain and European politicians accused the UK of 'hijacking' doses. 

      The new controls, which will come into effect on Saturday and last until March, allow the EU to keep track of all vaccines produced on the continent and block exports to certain countries - including the UK, which is expecting to take delivery of another 3.5million Pfizer BioNTech jabs from Belgium in the coming weeks.

      The rules also back-date to three months ago, giving Brussels the ability to snoop on past vaccine shipments after Brussels accused AstraZeneca of sending doses meant for Europe to Britain.

      Health minister Stella Kyriakides insisted that the 'transparency mechanism' is not intended to target any country, even as Croatia's PM branded the UK 'hijackers' while the EU's justice commissioner said Britain had started a 'war'.

      In a strongly-worded statement (pictured) tonight, a furious Ms Foster said: 'This is an incredible act of hostility. The European Union has once again shown it is prepared to use Northern Ireland when it suits their interests but in the most despicable manner - over the provision of a vaccine which is designed to save lives.'

      EU vaccine export ban could cut UK supplies 

      The EU's decision to introduce what amounts to an export ban on vaccines could affect the UK's orders of millions of jabs made abroad. 

      Brussels is currently trying to save face after its desire to introduce jabs across the 27 members states simultaneously left it lagging far behind the UK and other nations like Israel.

      Today's decision to require companies to have exports to certain countries approved before they are sent contains exemptions for many nations, but the United Kingdom is not on the list.

      Britain is expecting to receive approximately nine million more jabs over the next three weeks from Oxford/AstraZeneca's factories in Wrexham and Oxford and Pfizer/BioNTech's production centre in Puurs, Belgium. 

      If European leaders decide to blockade vaccine exports across the English Channel, the American drugs company Pfizer could be left unable to ship supplies bound for the UK. 

      This would mean some of the 3.5million doses reportedly set to arrive by mid-February could get stuck inside the EU. 

      AstraZeneca's boss pledged earlier this year that the company would start supplying the UK with two million doses per week from the third week of January. 

      These supplies from the two firms alone would be just enough to cover all of the 8.6million people outstanding in the top vaccine priority groups, but if deliveries are stopped or fall short, the target could be in jeopardy. 

      Boris Johnson has repeatedly this week played down any threat to the UK's vaccine supplies. And his spokesman, asked about the threat by the EU today, said: ''AstraZeneca has clearly stated that it will be able to provide two million doses a week and we have stated we will get them out to people as quickly as possible.'

      He added: 'The deals we have in place with the seven vaccine developers will ensure our supplies continue to grow.'  

      It is not clear how many doses are already sitting in Britain's warehouses, with ministers refusing to reveal numbers because of security concerns.

      But No 10 has confirmed that they are distributing vaccines out as soon as they can after they are delivered from the manufacturers.

      Additionally the Pfizer vaccine has to be kept at -70C in order to work.

      What this means is that there are unlikely to be large stocks of vaccines sitting in reserve in UK warehouses, ready to take up the slack if there is any cut in deliveries.

      Last night it was revealed the Novavax jab, which will be manufactured in Stockton-on-Tees, appears to be effective against both the original strain of coronavirus and a mutant strain first identified in Kent. 

      The UK has secured access to 60 million doses of the new vaccine, but it has yet to be approved by the regulator. This means it will be available in the second half of this year at the earliest. In an extraordinary move this afternoon, Nicola Sturgeon risked undermining the UK's position by announcing she will publish details of the country's vaccine supplies from next week

      In an extraordinary move this afternoon, Nicola Sturgeon risked undermining the UK's position by announcing she will publish details of the country's vaccine supplies from next week

      It comes as the German press (pictured inset: An article in Die Zeit) turned on Brussels as it denounced the EU's shambolic vaccine rollout as the 'best advert for Brexit'

      It comes as the German press (pictured inset: An article in Die Zeit) turned on Brussels as it denounced the EU's shambolic vaccine rollout as the 'best advert for Brexit'

      Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the UK will discuss 'how we can help' the EU's vaccination effort. But asked if the UK might lose out because the EU has not got enough doses, Mr Gove said: 'No.'

      Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the UK will discuss 'how we can help' the EU's vaccination effort. But asked if the UK might lose out because the EU has not got enough doses, Mr Gove said: 'No.'Ms Sturgeon's comments came as she was grilled by Tory Ruth Davidson at First Minister's Questions yesterday afternoon.

      Pushed on why Scotland's vaccinations were happening more slowly than England's, Ms Sturgeon dismissed claims that the authorities north of the border were sitting on supplies.

      And she referenced a previous row with Westminster when the Scottish government published information about supplies, only to be told to withdraw the material.

      Ms Sturgeon complained that despite the orders the UK government has been 'briefing' the details out, adding: 'I've said to my officials actually, regardless of what they say, I think we will just go back to publishing the actual supply figures from next week so we all have transparency around that.' 

      According to reports, the Belgian federal medicines agency completed an inspection at the AstraZeneca production site in Seneffe, Hainaut. 

      Samples and records are said to have been taken and another visit is due in the coming days.

      The firm has blamed a production problem at the site, owned by a French life-sciences company, for the reduction in how much supply the EU can expect. 

      However, there is scepticism in Brussels over the explanation, with un-evidenced claims the UK is being given stocks. 

      A prominent German MEP warned the UK would 'suffer' unless it agreed to the EU's demands to share more vaccine.

      Peter Liese, who is in Angela Merkel's CDU party, suggested Brussels could block shipments of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, which is made in Belgium.

      He said: 'The BioNTech vaccine, which is only produced in Europe and has been produced with the aid of the German state and European Union money, has been shipped to the United Kingdom.

      'If there is anyone thinking that European citizens would accept that we give this high quality vaccine to the UK and would accept to be treated as second class by a UK-based company, I think that the only consequence can be immediately stopping the export of the BioNtech (vaccine) and then we are in the middle of a trade war.

      'So the company and the UK better think twice. When we see Europe is not treated well, not by the United States and not by the UK, then we have to show our weapons.

      'We need to tell the other companies in the world if we treat the Europeans as second class, you will suffer for this.'

      To add to the complications, Germany's top vaccine panel said it is not recommending the AstraZeneca jab only for over-65s because there is not enough evidence on whether it works for the elderly.

      The panel of scientists said the Oxford/AstraZeneca product was 'considered appropriate' for 18-65 year-olds but should not be used for older people 'based on available data'.

      'There is currently insufficient data to assess the efficacy of the vaccine for persons aged 65 years and older,' it said.

      The commission did not lend any credence to the sensational claim published by German media on Monday that the jab was only eight per cent effective among over-65s, a theory debunked by the manufacturers and German health ministry.

      Instead, it said there was not enough data to make a decision either way - after AstraZeneca's boss said the 'very ethical' Oxford scientists had slowed down trials on older people until the vaccine was proved to be safe.

      Downing Street has refused to rule out giving UK vaccines to the EU once the most vulnerable in the country have been inoculated.

      The Prime Minister's official spokesman was repeatedly asked by reporters whether Number 10 was considering the idea.

      The spokesman said it 'remains our priority to vaccinate the most vulnerable people across the UK to ensure we can give those who are at clinical risk protection against the virus'.

      Pushed on whether that left the door open to sending vaccines to Europe once the most vulnerable had been jabbed, he added: 'Phase one includes those who are most vulnerable to the virus – that remains our priority to make sure we get vaccines to all those as quickly as possible.

      'Phase one is groups one to nine (on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation suggested priority list). The mid-February target is the first four groups within that.'

      Put to him that after the first nine cohorts had been vaccinated, vaccines could then be shared, the spokesman added: 'I didn't say that.'

      AstraZeneca warned Brussels last week the problems in Belgium meant the bloc would receive only a quarter of the 100million doses it had expected by April.

      A spokesman told MailOnline: 'Our CEO Pascal Soriot was pleased to participate in a meeting this evening with the EU's Vaccine Steering Board.

      'We had a constructive and open conversation about the complexities of scaling up production of our vaccine, and the challenges we have encountered.

      'We have committed to even closer co-ordination, to jointly chart a path for the delivery of our vaccine over the coming months as we continue our efforts to bring our vaccine to millions of Europeans at no profit during the pandemic.'

      Government sources insisted only once the AZ factories in Oxford and Newcastle-under-Lyme had fulfilled their commitment to the UK will they be free to supply other countries.

      The UK signed a deal with AstraZeneca last May to supply 100million doses of the vaccine it developed with Oxford University.

      EU nations placed a joint order for 400million doses from AstraZeneca three months later, in August, to be made at two sites on the continent, as well as the two UK sites.

      The resultant 75million shortfall in the first three months of this year has caused a major row between the two sides.

      Tory MP Andrew Bridgen told ITV's Good Morning Britain: 'The fact is that we ordered the vaccine three months before the EU.

      'The EU are coming out with a very strange excuse for botching their procurement of vaccine at the moment.

      'They're saying that the reason it took them three months longer than the UK to order the vaccine is because they were negotiating for better prices for and better value for money, which is ludicrous when the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, our own UK vaccine, is being produced at cost at £3 a dose subsidised by the UK taxpayer.

      'I don't know how you get better value for that.

      'The EU then insisted on the contract that they did sign with AstraZeneca that they get delivery at the same time as the UK, which had ordered it three months before.

      'Obviously that's going to be produced in Belgium at a new facility they're setting up.

      'AstraZeneca made the EU aware that was going to be very difficult but they promised to make best efforts, that was in the contract.'

      Aaron Bell, a Tory member of the Commons science committee, said: 'I understand and sympathise with the EU's disappointment that AstraZeneca is having yield issues at its Belgian plant, but the suggestion that the UK's supply should be diverted to the continent is clearly inappropriate.' 

      Tensions rose when Mr Soriot told European newspapers in an interview on Tuesday that the supply schedule for the EU was not a 'commitment' but agreed as a 'best effort'.

      He said that as Brussels had signed its supply contract three months later than the UK it had left less time to sort out production 'glitches' at sites on the continent.

      'The contract with the UK was signed first and the UK, of course, said 'you supply us first', and this is fair enough,' he added.

      But Miss Kyriakides flatly rejected the argument and demanded the vaccines being made in the UK for domestic use be exported to the EU.

      At a briefing in Brussels, she said: 'There is no hierarchy of the factories. 

      The EU’s health commissioner last night insisted that Britain should not receive priority – even though the UK signed a contract with Astra-Zeneca three months before the bloc did. Pictured: AstraZeneca office building in Brussels

      The EU's health commissioner last night insisted that Britain should not receive priority – even though the UK signed a contract with Astra-Zeneca three months before the bloc did. Pictured: AstraZeneca office building in Brussels

      These set of graphs show the number of vaccines ordered by the UK and the EU. The EU has also ordered a number of other vaccines, including 300million Sanofi-GSK doses and 405million CureVac doses

      These set of graphs show the number of vaccines ordered by the UK and the EU. The EU has also ordered a number of other vaccines, including 300million Sanofi-GSK doses and 405million CureVac doses


      STEPHEN GLOVER: The day the bullies of Brussels went mad

      By Stephen Glover for the Daily Mail

      We have known for a long time that the European Union is a bully. It bullied Greece during the financial crisis which started in 2009, and from the moment the British people voted to leave the bloc, it tried to bully us into submission.

      But never until now have we seen the increasingly tyrannical nature of the EU – and in particular the European Commission in Brussels – quite so starkly. It is behaving in a manner that is both disgraceful and more than slightly mad. The Eurocrats really have lost the plot.

      The Commission's introduction of rules yesterday that will allow it to prevent life-saving jabs getting into Britain – even though they have been ordered and paid for – is a shamelessly aggressive act.

      At the same time, Brussels dramatically invoked Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol. This move has effectively removed the province from the EU Customs area, in contravention of an agreement made with the UK. Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland's First Minister, rightly called this 'an incredible act of hostility'.

      So desperate is the EU to ensure vaccines do not leave its territory and find their way into Britain, it is prepared to impose a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. A hard border, it must be said, which it resisted tooth and nail during negotiations with the Government.

      There is even talk of the Commission invoking powers which would enable it to seize intellectual property and data from pharmaceutical companies. The move would be targeted in particular at the Anglo-Swedish giant AstraZeneca, which Brussels outrageously accuses of withholding vaccines it has ordered.

      The EU, which is supposed to be a union of liberal democracies friendly to Britain, is acting as though it were an authoritarian state such as Russia or China, with a deeply antagonistic mindset towards a former member.

      The truth is that Brussels is not only a bully. It is an incompetent one. Whereas Britain ordered hundreds of millions of vaccines from several different sources in good time, the Commission was slow, blundering and inept. Meanwhile, brilliant researchers at Oxford University, supported by AstraZeneca, came up with the goods.

      Now the Commission is trying to punish this country for what are actually its own multiple errors. It won't work, not least because AstraZeneca has two plants in this country producing vaccines. They will go to the British Government first for the simple reason that it signed an agreement three months before the EU did.

      One amusing sub-plot of this crazy story is that while the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, insists that Britain must give up tens of millions of its Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines, President Emmanuel Macron of France continues to question whether they are effective for those over 65.

      Where is Germany's Angela Merkel in all this? Can she and other grown-up leaders of EU countries relish the spectacle of the flat-footed, overbearing and unelected Commission poisoning relations with an ally? Is this really the Europe they want?

      Perhaps even once-intransigent Remainers will now see the point of our leaving the EU. More than ever before, we should be relieved and grateful to have left this increasingly malign madhouse.

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