Ursula von der Leyen has promised Boris Johnson that future EU vaccine controls will not disrupt the contractual supply of the Belgian-made BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine to Britain.
The President of the European Commission made the pledge to the Prime Minister in a strained appeal on Friday evening, which followed the Commission’s controversial plan – hastily abandoned – to impose emergency border controls on vaccines entering Northern Ireland from the EU.
Ms von der Leyen tweeted that discussions with Mr Johnson had been ‘constructive’, adding: ‘We have agreed in principle that there should be no restrictions on the export of vaccines by companies where they fulfill contractual responsibilities. “
Mr Johnson’s allies have confirmed that this includes the 40 million doses Pfizer is under contract to supply Britain from a factory in Belgium. The Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Dropping the implicit threat to Pfizer’s exports and dropping a proposal to include Northern Ireland in new export controls eased tensions between London and Brussels.
Mr Johnson has tried this week to avoid fueling tensions and igniting a vaccine war that he says will hurt both sides and hamper the global fight against Covid-19.
“The call was perfect, I hope it’s the end,” said an ally of the Prime Minister. “We don’t intend to dwell on it.”
But Northern Ireland Prime Minister Arlene Foster on Saturday called on Mr Johnson to follow Brussels’ lead and cancel part of the Brexit deal to make it easier to move goods between Britain and the United Kingdom. OR.
Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol contains a “safeguard” clause to replace the agreement, which aims to keep an open border on the island of Ireland. It includes controls on GB / NI trade.
The European Commission has said it will use Article 16 to justify its original plan to impose vaccine export controls on Northern Ireland, even though the region is still part of the EU’s single goods market .
He cited the risk of “serious societal hardship” in the EU if the bloc was unable to deploy enough vaccines to its own citizens.
Julian Smith, former secretary of Northern Ireland, said the EU had “pulled the emergency cordon” without following the proper processes that had been agreed upon over years of negotiations.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that the decision was taken “without any understanding of the Good Friday Agreement, of the sensitivities of the situation in Northern Ireland”.
“It was an almost Trumpian act – I’m very happy they changed their mind,” he said.
The Commission has since republished its vaccine shipment control measures, with the Article 16 proposals being deleted.
The export restrictions have drawn criticism from business groups, including the International Chamber of Commerce, which has warned they could lead to retaliation from other countries and have a devastating impact on global supplies in vaccines.
It also emerged that Belgium, a key location for vaccine production in the EU, has notified the Commission of a draft health law that would give it new powers to curb drug exports.
The proposed legislation would allow Belgian authorities to restrict or ban the shipment of drugs and critical active ingredients, in the event of a shortage or potential shortage.
The Belgian government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its application.