express– The EU caused a scandal on Friday when it decided without consultation to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol as the bloc’s vaccine crisis goes form bad to worse. The EU has been struggling to procure vaccines for Member States following an issue with manufacturing at AstraZeneca, makers of the Oxford vaccine.
The decision was later reversed by the European Commission after talks between it and Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Last week AstraZeneca confirmed it would fall short of delivering jabs to the EU by March due to production problems in Belgium.
It prompted anger from Brussels, which in return demanded to know why the company cannot divert supplies from its British sites which have been producing millions of shots for British citizens.
The NI protocol was one of the biggest sticking points of the Brexit negotiations that took place last year.
It was agreed that NI would effectively stay a part of the single market for good to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Article 16 of the protocol gives the EU or the UK the ability to unilaterally suspend aspects of its operation if either side considers that aspect is causing “economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.
It is only supposed to be triggered in the face of “serious” problems, and if one side triggers Article 16, the other side can take rebalancing action in response.
NI’s First Minister Arlene Foster said: “It’s absolutely disgraceful and I have to say the Prime Minister now needs to act very quickly to deal with the real trade flows that are being disrupted between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.”
Will the NI protocol be replaced?
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Ms Foster has urged the Prime Minister to replace to the NI Protocol following the events of Friday evening.
She said: “We’ve been asking the PM to deal with the flow problems and, indeed since 1 January, we’ve been trying to manage along with the government the many, many difficulties that have arisen between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and there are actions he could take immediately.
“There is great unrest and great tension within the community here in Northern Ireland so this protocol that was meant to bring about peace and harmony in Northern Ireland is doing quite the reverse
“The protocol is unworkable, let’s be very clear about that, and we need to see it replaced because otherwise there is going to be real difficulties here in Northern Ireland.”
Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith was very frank about the EU’s move on Friday, saying it had “cocked up big time”.
He told the Today programme: “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.
“The EU cocked up big time last night but we all need to work in the interests 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 of care between the EU and the UK to preserve no hard border and stability in Northern Ireland.”
The Prime Minister is yet to respond to the calls made by Ms Foster.
Express.co.uk has contacted Downing Street for comment.