UK's Johnson tells EU chief of 'concerns' over vaccine
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday told EU
chief Ursula von der Leyen of his "grave concerns" after Brussels partially suspended terms of the Brexit deal as part of a vaccine export control scheme.
Johnson talked to the EU head on the phone and "expressed his grave concerns about the potential impact which the steps the EU has taken today on vaccine exports could have", according to his Downing Street office.
The EU's export control scheme includes a provision to partially suspend terms of the Brexit deal that allows goods to flow across the Irish border.
British minister Michael Gove called European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic to "express the UK's concern over a lack of notification from the EU about its actions", said a spokesman for the prime minister's office.
The UK was "carefully considering its next steps", he added.
The Northern Ireland protocol in the Brexit deal allows goods to flow between EU member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland without the need for customs checks at the border.
But there is a provision under Article 16 of the protocol for either party to unilaterally suspend the terms for specific goods if the agreement leads "to serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties that are liable to persist".
Brussels on Friday invoked the article as part of a scheme to monitor and in some cases bar exports of vaccines produced in EU plants, amid a row with British-Swedish drugs giant AstraZeneca over supply.
The move brought both sides of Northern Ireland's loyalist/republican divide together in condemnation.
Arlene Foster, leader of Northern Ireland's loyalist Democratic Unionist Party, called the move to invoke Article 16 an "incredible act of hostility".
She accused the EU of using Northern Ireland in "the most despicable manner - over the provision of a vaccine which is designed to save lives".
Colum Eastwood, leader of the republican SDLP party, said the move was a "disproportionate and grave error" by the EU.
Ireland's foreign minister Simon Coveney said on Twitter that the government was "working with the EU Commission to try resolve this issue".
The EU said the measures were "justified as a safeguard measure... in order to avert serious societal difficulties due to a lack of supply threatening to disturb the orderly implementation of the vaccination campaigns in the Member States".
There is little or no physical infrastructure on the border due to processes put in place by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The deal brought to an end decades of violence between those who want Northern Ireland to remain British and those who want it to be part of the Irish republic.
Maintaining a "soft" border was integral to negotiations between the two, with local leaders warning of a potential return to violence.
Brussels has been in a furious dispute with AstraZeneca this week, accusing it of breaching its contract by delaying deliveries to EU governments while maintaining those under a deal it signed earlier with the UK.
But Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides insisted: "We are not protecting ourselves against any specific country. And we're not in competition or in a race against any country."