European Commission in humiliating climbdown, withdraws Article 16

It has truly been a day to forget for the European Commission who, after announcing it was going to effectively impose a border on the island of Ireland to regulate vaccine exports, has now suffered a humiliating climbdown and backtracked on its intentions.

The EU executive told reporters that it was invoking Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, a clause within the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement which effectively temporarily restricts the free flow of goods across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The decision was met with derision and outrage with Brussels managing to unite the Irish government, the DUP, Sinn Féin, the UK Labour party, the British government and even the Church of England in condemnation of its behaviour. Some feat!

The British government was quick off the mark in reaching out to Dublin before prime minister Boris Johnson calling on the Commission to “urgently clarify its intentions and what steps it plans to take to ensure its own commitments with regards to Northern Ireland are fully honoured”.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Forster described the move as “an incredible act of hostility” by the EU.

However, just a matter of hours later and Sky News is reporting that the European Commission has U-turned and withdrawn invoking Article 16.

The Commission released a statement late on Friday evening which read:

“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 transit 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.

“The final version of the implementing regulation will be published following its adoption tomorrow.”

Quite the humiliation.