EU imposes hard border in Northern Ireland amid covid vaccines row

The European Union has triggered Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol as part of new EU-wide export controls, erecting a customs border in Ireland in a move that some critics call a threat to stability on the island.

Under the Withdrawal Agreement, all products should be exported from the EU to Northern Ireland free from checks. The pact was considered essential under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, which brought an end to the worst of the Troubles.

The Northern Ireland Protocol is a special deal struck between the UK and Brussels in order to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and its importance was signaled strongly by major international figures including Joe Biden – who has thus far remained silent about the EU’s latest move.

The move from Brussels to erode the Northern Ireland Protocol comes just 29 days after the Brexit agreement came into force, and is the latest desperate move in the EU’s emerging vaccine wars.

The EU has been locked in a dispute with vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca after the pharmaceutical company said it would not be able to deliver as many doses to the EU as initially agreed due to an issue in an EU manufacturing plant.

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster labelled the move “an incredible act of hostility” by the EU. Foster wrote in a tweet: “At the first opportunity the EU has placed a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland over the supply chain of the Coronavirus vaccine.

“With the European Union using article 16 in such an aggressive and most shameful way, it is now time for our Government to step up. I will be urging the Prime Minister to act and use the robust measures including article 16 to advance the interests of Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.”

Michael Gove has contacted European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic to express the UK’s “concern over a lack of notification from the EU about its actions in relation to the NI protocol.”