Micheal Martin says EU triggering of Article 16 was not “act of hostility”

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Ireland’s premier Micheal Martin has disagreed with the assessment of Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster that the EU displayed an “act of hostility” on Friday evening by triggering Article 16 of the Brexit Protocol over the supply of coronavirus vaccines.

“My observation is that the terrible row is an acrimonious row between AstraZeneca and the (EU) Commission over the contractual obligations of the company in respect of supplying vaccines to European member states took centre stage here, and people were blindsided by the decision that was taken and the implications for the Protocol,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

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The Taoiseach stressed it took four years to negotiate the Protocol to facilitate access for Northern Ireland’s economy to the single market as well as to the UK market and to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

“It’s a good thing, the Protocol, overall. There are issues there that we have to fine-tune and work out, but essentially I think there are positives there medium term for Northern Ireland in terms of its economic development which we should not underestimate.

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“We are only four weeks into the operation of the Protocol, there are bound to be teething problems but I do acknowledge the need for engagement here on all sides, between the European Union, the United Kingdom and the Irish Government, and the Northern Ireland Executive.”

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said there is a “strong sense across Europe” that AstraZeneca has not delivered on commitments around the vaccination.

“There’s a very fair point there which cannot be brushed aside, the problem is the commission took the wrong mechanism in invoking Article 16 of the Protocol to deal with it,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

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“What has gone wrong is clearly that the commitments made in terms of volume levels are not being realised in terms of the contractual engagement between the commission and AstraZeneca.

“The same type of tensions do not appear to have arisen in relation to the other companies.”

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has guaranteed there will be no disruption to Pfizer vaccines being supplied to the UK from within the EU.

Asked if she could absolutely guarantee the Belgium-made Pfizer jabs would not be disrupted, she told The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC: “Yes, I can.

“The Prime Minister has spoken to the President of the European Commission, she has assured him that there will be no disruption of contracts that we have with any producer in the EU.”

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss insisted “we’ve always been clear” that trading with the EU after Brexit “would involve processes”.

Asked what she says to small businesses dealing with the reality of post-Brexit trade with the bloc and finding themselves on the brink of bankruptcy, she told The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC: “We’ve always been clear that trading as a third-party country would involve processes, the similar processes that you have for trading with the United States or Japan or any other countries.”

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has said the EU set a “precedent”.

“The EU and others had been lecturing everybody, and indeed had taken as the basis of its policy for the last four or five years that there could never be under any circumstances whatsoever any kind of hard border on the island of Ireland, and that to do anything to over-ride any of the Protocol provisions would be an anathema, and then in one fell swoop on Friday night it did both of those things, so that is why people feel so outraged and bewildered at what the EU has done, never mind the fact that it was aimed at vaccines, which is aimed at helping people overcome this terrible Covid pandemic,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme.

“I think that what what the EU has now effectively done is set a precedent that has said that in circumstances where their single market is in danger and there’s a potential threat, then the provisions of article 16 can be triggered and, indeed, in their statement withdrawing article 16 now, they made it clear that they reserve the right to use it and other instruments going forward.

“I think that the British government now has the opportunity to look at what the problems are between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the societal difficulties and economic difficulties, the EU cited as the reason for Article 16 are far more pertinent and far more in play in Northern Ireland given the problems with parcels, foodstuffs, medicines all the rest of it, and therefore the government now needs to look at what it can do to alleviate the problems between Great Britain and Northern Ireland that get rid of some of the insidious effects of this wretched Protocol.”

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