LIVE UPDATES: Brexit - NI had shipment of vaccine in transit when European Commission triggered Article 16 says Health Minister Robin Swann - EU denies it fully invoked Article 16 as spokesperson says ‘Only the Pope is infallible’ - Angry scenes in Stormont as Jim Allister rages ‘What’s keeping you Boris Johnson?’

Northern Ireland came close to losing out on a shipment of Covid-19 vaccines when the European Union unilaterally invoked Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol which is part of the United Kingdom’s EU Withdrawal Agreement.

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Health Minister, Robin Swann.

LIVE BLOG: Irish Sea Border and NI Protocol - ‘Only the Pope is infallible’ says European Commission regarding Article 16

Last updated: Monday, 01 February, 2021, 13:14

  • ‘Only the Pope is infallible’ says European Commission regarding Article 16
  • ‘So what’s keeping you Boris Johnson?’ rages Jim Allister in Stormont
  • Unionist anger over EU triggering Article 16 continues to simmer
  • Nigel Dodds: Westminster must stand up to Brussels to help Northern Ireland

‘Only the Pope is infallible’ says European Commission regarding Article 16

A spokesperson for President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, claims the commission successfully stopped the triggering of Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol before it was fully invoked on Friday.

The spokesperson admitted what unfolded on Friday was “a mistake” but caveated it with “only the Pope is infallible”.

“Mistakes happen along the way but the important thing is that you recognise them early on - in this case so early that it was before the decision was finalised - and you correct them,” said the spokesperson during a press conference in Brussels on Monday afternoon.

NI Protocol is ‘harming businesses and consumers in part of the United Kingdom’ says Arlene Foster

‘Reality has bitten’ says Arlene Foster

Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster has repeated her view that the EU’s intervention over the Northern Ireland Protocol was wrong.

She told the Northern Ireland Assembly: “Reality has bitten.

“Unionists across the length and breadth of Northern Ireland are in anguish.

“It should matter that everyone in Northern Ireland is being denied supply of trade and if they really care about all of the people of Northern Ireland, they will act.”

Sinn Fein Upper Bann Assembly member John O’Dowd accused unionists of “sabre-rattling” and called for calm heads.

UUP leader Steve Aiken said politicians in Northern Ireland should be “at the table” influencing decision-makers.

He reiterated his demands for invocation of Article 16 by the UK to ease the effects of the Northern Ireland Protocol on east/west trade.

“Our economy, our society and our culture, and virtually every aspect of Northern Ireland’s life, is being impacted.

“We as a unionist party have said for a considerable time that Article 16 should be there and should be used.”

‘So what’s keeping you Boris Johnson?’ - TUV leader Jim Allister rages at EU and Boris Johnson in Stormont

TUV leader and MLA for North Antrim, Jim Allister, has raged against the European Commission after it unilaterally invoked Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol over Covid-19 vaccines.

At the beginning of a plenary sitting of the Assembly in Stormont on Monday afternoon Mr. Allister raised the incident as a matter of the day and called upon Prime Minister, Boris Johnson to act.

“I hope what the EU did on Friday is seen as a wake-up call,” said Mr. Allister.

"The actions of the EU told us three things:

"One - the EU has proved itself to have callous self-interest and it cares nothing for the people of Northern Ireland.

"Two - it turns out that an Irish land border is possible when it suits the EU.

“Three - it doesn’t take very much for the EU trigger Article 16 - so what’s keeping you Boris Johnson?.”

Nigel Dodds: Westminster must stand up to Brussels to help Northern Ireland

The EU has behaved atrociously in recent days in seeking to ban Covid vaccines coming to the UK - writes Lord Dodds.

But this hostile nationalistic approach has exposed more than the EU Commission’s nasty side. It has exposed its hypocrisy.

The legalistic rules-based principle lies in tatters.

Since the 2016 referendum, unionists have been lectured about no hard border in Ireland under any circumstances and that overriding the provisions of the protocol is a terrible thing. Let’s just remember the outcry against the Internal Market Bill.

Yet the EU turned everything on its head at the first opportunity when it suited their agenda. There was no consultation with London, Dublin or Belfast. The actions in Brussels were about putting Germany and France first. Northern Ireland was once again turned into a bargaining chip.

It’s little wonder people are outraged. It’s one rule for us and a different rule for the EU.

What the EU has done is to set a precedent. They have demonstrated that it is quite legitimate according to their own standards to invoke Article 16 for reasons of societal difficulties to protect their single market and to do so immediately without consultation.

Note that in their statement backing away from immediate invocation of Article 16 they reserved the right in paragraph 3 to invoke it at any time in the future saying that they will consider using all instruments at their disposal.

So they have not reneged from the use of Article 16, they just deferred it and reserved the right to use it in the future at any point.

There can now be no excuse for the UK government not to use the very same argument to eradicate the far worse societal difficulties being caused by the daily disruptions caused entirely by the protocol within the UK internal market. Indeed the UK government has the added ground of economic difficulties as allowed for in Article 16. So the UK government has an even stronger case to take action.

The UK government has a solemn duty to protect everyone in Northern Ireland from the economic damage being inflicted on our businesses and consumers and the growing societal difficulties as referenced the PSNI evidence to the Northern Ireland Select Committee last week.

The events of the weekend cannot simply be swept aside and a pretence that everything just carries on as normal. The EU has shown it can and will act to defend its internal market using the protocol to do so. It still remains ready to do what it takes using all instruments at its disposal as it says in its own words.

Will our government show the same willingness to stand up for our own internal market?

• Lord Dodds is deputy leader of the DUP

Arlene Foster accuses PM of ‘dereliction of duty’ on NI Protocol

Arlene Foster has accused Boris Johnson of a dereliction of duty after claiming he is not doing enough to address Irish Sea trade disruption - writes David Young.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister demanded action from the Prime Minister amid the continued fallout from the EU’s botched move to invoke a mechanism to suspend elements of the new trading arrangements.

The European Commission was forced into an embarrassing U-turn on Friday when it backtracked on an attempt to restrict the free flow of goods across the Irish border.

Senior European politicians have conceded it was a mistake to try to unilaterally suspend part of Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol to prevent the region being used as backdoor to move vaccines from the bloc into the UK.

The protocol, which governs the movement of goods in and out of Northern Ireland post-Brexit, was created to ensure continued free flow of trade across the Irish border.

It does so by moving regulatory and customs processes to the Irish Sea, with checks instead focused primarily on produce moving from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.

Some aspects of trade have experienced disruption since the protocol came into effect on December 31 and unionists have been calling for the UK Government to itself suspend elements of the protocol until the issues have been resolved.

Those calls have intensified after the EU’s own ill-fated suspension bid on Friday.

Mrs Foster said the EU had “lowered the bar” for triggering suspension, which is done by invoking Article 16 of the protocol.

The DUP leader said she did not accept that the Commission’s initial move on Friday was a mistake.

“It was absolutely an act of hostility and actually they have not ruled out using it again,” she told BBC Radio Ulster.

Mrs Foster said it was “patronising and offensive” to described the problems encountered by Northern Ireland businesses and consumers as “teething problems” and she called on Mr Johnson to act and move immediately to deploy Article 16.

“I have to say directly to the Prime Minister and to the UK Government that it is a dereliction of duty for a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to stand by and allow United Kingdom citizens to suffer and that is what he is allowing to do at present, so therefore action is absolutely needed,” she said.

While Article 16 suspends aspects of the protocol to facilitate negotiations on resolving the issues of concern, the First Minister wants the protocol binned altogether.

“There’s nothing positive to come from protocol,” she added.

Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard said the Commission’s “humbling climbdown” had ensured that “chaos” was averted.

“I think to be fair the EU were foolish, I think Friday’s actions were very reckless and were absolutely disproportionate,” he told Radio Ulster.

Mr Hazzard, whose party supports the protocol, accused Mrs Foster to trying to create a crisis, suggesting she was under pressure from hard-line unionists.

“Arlene and the DUP seem intent to stoke the flames going forward,” he said.

“I think that speaks more to their own internal political problems here than it does to the actual issue at hand.”

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