Irish minister calls for ‘procedures’ to avoid another EU vaccine ‘debacle’
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Thomas Byrne, Ireland’s European Affairs Minister, spoke to BBC’s Emily Maitlis about the coronavirus vaccine row and said it was a “mistake”. The European Commission temporarily triggered an article in the Brexit trade deal’s Northern Ireland Protocol on January 29 which suspended the country’s access to the EU’s single market. It was revoked the same day after outrage from Ireland and the UK.
Mr Byrne was asked whether the Brexit deal was “not working for” both Irish states, using the vaccine row as an example, and said a solution must be found.
He said: “The Article 16 row debacle has been well aired at this particular stage. A mistake was made by the European Commission, and that mistake was rectified immediately and what we’re doing is putting in place the procedures to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“But remember, there were calls in Britain in the weeks previous that Article 16 should be invoked which we resisted and felt shouldn’t happen, and of course it shouldn’t happen.
“What needs to happen is, and I think everyone has agreed on this, that the Governments must work together now to make sure the Protocol works in the best interests of everybody Northern Ireland.
“The Protocol was agreed by the British Government and the European Commission, passed in parliament and indeed on the European side and supported by us as well because it is a complex solution to a complex problem.”
Earlier on Newsnight, Mr Byrne also said Northern Ireland trade post-Brexit has had a “rocky takeoff” due to a return of “red tape”.
When asked about whether barriers to trade could be removed “if the will is there”, he said Ireland has no objection to “any easement that is practical”.
He added: “I think certainly Michael Gove and Maros Sefcovic should be given the space to discuss that and work things out.
“What we want in relation to the protocol and in relation to Northern Ireland is for it to work for businesses, for employment and for people on both sides of the Northern Ireland community. That’s what’s important.
“There is no such thing as a winner in Northern Ireland, everything is about compromise, it’s about give and take, it’s about trying to make the best out of a situation there.
“The Good Friday Agreement did that, and the Protocol tries to do that as well.”
On the same day Mr Byrne said to the Irish Parliament’s Committee on European Union Affairs an “early warning system” should be in place.
He said: “When I first saw this, I’m sure like all of you … I was like: What the …? I couldn’t believe it.
“What the government wants fundamentally is an early warning system to be put in place. We cannot afford to have that happen again.”
During the meeting, Irish and EU officials spoke from Brussels and via videolink from Dublin to discuss new safeguards that would prevent the Commission from unwittingly undermining the Northern Ireland protocol again.
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It comes after Mr Gove urged Brussels to extend the customs relief for British trade to Northern Ireland by two years.
Brussels is said to have rejected the proposal, according to the Telegraph, and has said three to six months is the maximum they will extend the relief.
Following the UK leaving the EU, a grace period was introduced allowing Britain to trade with Northern Ireland without following customs rules until March.
Boris Johnson’s Brexit trade deal means customs checks are carried out on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain, creating an “Irish Sea border”.
It also follows the DUP calling for the Northern Ireland Protocol to be scrapped by the UK Government.
DUP MP Ian Paisley told the Prime Minister that the protocol has “betrayed” his constituents, making them “feel like foreigners in our country”.
Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said to BBC Ulster: “We need to be truthful with everybody – the protocol is not going to be scrapped.”
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