Swiss exempt from European Union vaccine export controls

Clay Curtis
January 30, 2021

The EU invoked Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol which allows parts of the deal to be unilaterally overridden.

"In the process of finalization of this measure, the Commission will ensure that the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol is unaffected", the EU's executive arm said in a statement late Friday.

Amid a dispute with Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and British leader Boris Johnson had an unexpected phone call, during which the United Kingdom prime minister "expressed his grave concerns about the potential impact which the steps the EU has taken today on vaccine exports could have", a statement from the British government read.

"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".

Pressed on whether that would be in breach of an worldwide treaty, Mrs Foster said: "Well it didn't seem to bother the European Union yesterday when they breached the treaty in terms of their embarrassment around their vaccine procurement".

The move brought both sides of Northern Ireland's Loyalist and Republican divide together in condemnation.

Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster had condemned the EU's "hostile adn aggressive act" after speculation mounted that tighter export regulations on COVID-19 vaccines could be implemented to prevent the unimpeded transport of jabs across the Irish border. "The EU cynically and deliberately used Northern Ireland in an attempt to cover up their vaccine omnishambles with a political one", he said.

Johnson & Johnson vaccine shown effective against severe COVID-19 illness and variants
All COVID-19 vaccines train the body to recognize the new coronavirus, usually by spotting the spikey protein that coats it. Even the South Africa variant, which has undergone the most worrisome changes, does not seem to be able to fully escape.

The decision to trigger the provision, Article 16 of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, blindsinded Dublin and London, and set off a firestorm as it would have the effect of temporarily nullifying the special border arrangement meant to preserve the Good Friday peace agreement.

The European scheme to monitor and bar exports of vaccines produced in EU plants has also been criticised by the World Health Organization.

The protocol has already proved unpopular with unionists in Northern Ireland, who complain of a border down the Irish Sea.

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, told The Times newspaper Brussels needed to step back from the escalating row over vaccines.

Ms von der Leyen said she had also held "constructive talks" with Mr Johnson, adding: "We agreed on the principle that there should not be restrictions on the export of vaccines by companies where they are fulfilling contractual responsibilities".

He said: "The action doesn't make any sense at all and it has clearly embarrassed the Irish Government which was blindsided". "We note that the original announcement of an export ban outside the European Union did not even mention Ireland or the border". Euronews said the whole thing was a "mistake" and an "oversight".

To head off similar disputes and allay fears that vaccines might be diverted, the Commission introduced the measures to tighten rules on the exports of shots produced in European Union countries.

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