Tony Blair brands EU ‘foolish’ over Article 16 coronavirus vaccine row

Politics

Tony Blair has said the EU’s short-lived move to override the Brexit deal on Northern Ireland under its vaccine export controls was “very foolish”.

The former prime minister, a vocal supporter of the UK remaining in the bloc, said Brussels’ action in triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to control the movement of coronavirus jabs had been “unacceptable”.

The EU backtracked on the move, imposed unilaterally as it faces shortfalls on coronavirus vaccine supplies, after universal criticism from London, Dublin and Belfast.

Asked if the move was irresponsible, Mr Blair told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “Yes, it was a very foolish thing to do and fortunately they withdrew it very quickly.

“I was somebody who negotiated the Good Friday Agreement, it’s brought peace to the island of Ireland and it is absolutely vital that we protect it and that’s why what the European Commission did was unacceptable but, as you say, fortunately they withdrew it very quickly.”

Mr Blair said countries in the developed world will be scrambling for more access to vaccine doses in the coming weeks.

However pressure will soon be growing to make sure enough vaccines are provided to developing countries.

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When asked if the UK should consider giving away some of the vaccines that we have to other countries, Mr Blair said: “That’s only going to happen if we’ve got a surplus of vaccine.

“We, like most developed countries, have ordered more vaccine than we will probably use but this is a decision that has got to be taken once we see our own programme rolling out.

“I’m sure there will be, by the way, for all of the developed world – because America for example has got massively more vaccine ordered than it is ever going to use – there will come a point I’m sure when the developed world will want to make sure that if they have surplus to their own requirements, they’ll want to share this with the developing world.”

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His comments come as the World Health Organisation (WHO) urged the UK to pause its vaccination programme once vulnerable groups have received their jabs to help ensure the global rollout is fair.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said she wanted to appeal to lower risk groups, telling them “you can wait”, because ensuring equitable global distribution is “clearly morally the right thing to do”.

Meanwhile, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is expected to meet chief executives of vaccine producers later.

It comes after a row between the EU and AstraZeneca over the supply of its COVID-19 jab.

Brussels accused AstraZeneca of breaking its contract by not supplying enough vaccine doses.

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‘EU recognises its made a mistake’ – Gove

On Friday, the EU triggered Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol in a move aimed at halting vaccines entering the UK through “the back door” with checks at the border of the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Under intense pressure, it backtracked leading Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove to confirm the union had realised it was in the wrong.

Mr Gove promised the UK would “work with them to make sure their own problems can be tackled”.

Over three nights, Sky News will host a series of special programmes examining the UK’s response to the pandemic.

Watch COVID Crisis: Learning the Lessons at 8pm on 9, 10 and 11 February.

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