Triggering Article 16 ‘mistake that shouldn’t have happened’ – Simon Coveney
The EU’s bid to override part of the Northern Ireland protocol on Brexit was “a mistake that shouldn’t have happened”, Ireland’s Foreign Minister said.
On Friday night the EU was forced into an embarrassing U-turn after invoking Article 16 of the protocol in a bid to control the flow of vaccines from the bloc.
The decision was swiftly reversed following condemnation from London, Dublin and Belfast.
Speaking on Monday, Simon Coveney said the protocol should not have been touched without consulting the British and Irish governments.
What happened on Friday certainly makes it more difficult for people who don't believe in the protocol in the first place, to actually help ensure that it works as well as it can.
He said: “I think it was a mistake that everybody recognises should not have happened.
“I mean in simple terms, you do not touch the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland without full consultation with the people who are most impacted by it.
“The Irish government, the British government and, perhaps most importantly, political leaders in Northern Ireland.
“That’s what happened on Friday, which should not have happened. And I think lessons have been learned as a result of that, and it certainly won’t happen again.”
Mr Coveney conceded that the incident had strengthened Unionist opposition to the protocol, which is designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.
He told RTE’s Today with Claire Byrne: “Arlene Foster has recognised that while she doesn’t like the protocol, she wants to focus on trying to make it work in a practical way for businesses in Northern Ireland.
“I think that approach is welcomed. Obviously in recent days she’s under pressure to criticise the protocol.
“And what happened on Friday certainly makes it more difficult for people who don’t believe in the protocol in the first place, to actually help ensure that it works as well as it can.
“That’s why Friday has triggered such a strong political response, particularly from unionism in Northern Ireland, which is understandable but very unhelpful in terms of moving the protocol forward now.”
He said it was a “serious mistake” to undermine the protocol without talking to the Irish government about the political consequences first.
Mr Coveney said he continues to have faith in European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who has come under significant pressure following the incident on Friday.
He also backed the EU in their ongoing row with vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca, which led to Article 16 of the protocol being invoked.
He said: “I think what happened is a decision was made in the Commission to introduce this vaccine authorisation scheme.
“Which essentially is an understandable response to companies who are now saying that they can’t deliver what they committed to deliver in a contract.
“It basically says that if private companies are going to export vaccines, out of the EU, well then, the authorisation for that export needs to be contingent on full compliance with commitments that they’ve made to the EU.
“And unfortunately what seems to have happened here is that some technical or legal experts pointed to a potential problem, whereby the protocol on Northern Ireland could be used to ensure that vaccines could be exported from the EU into Great Britain, without any authorisation requirements.
“Because of course, the protocol provides unfettered access into Northern Ireland.”
Mr Coveney added: “I think think the concerns with the EU was, that they were being asked to take a significant reduction, while AstraZeneca was providing full supplies to other third countries, and for the EU that was unacceptable.
“I think that’s understandable.”