EU: Expert slams Ursula von der Leyen on vaccine rollout
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Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said that European politicians were “playing politics” to distract attention from other problems – namely the EU’s shambolic roll-out of Covid-19 jabs. International Trade Secretary Liz Truss also insisted Britain has not breached the protocol, something it has been accused of doing by the EU which has threatened legal action. Meanwhile, DUP leader Arlene Foster branded Brussels “belligerent” and warned its treatment of Northern Ireland is putting peace at risk.
“What they’re only interested in is protecting their bloc, they’re not interested, as they claim to be, in protecting the Belfast agreement,” she said.
“If they were, they would not be taking the action that they’re taking a present.”
The backlash came as Brussels insisted it will launch legal action “very soon” after the UK said it will unilaterally delay the implementation of parts of the protocol.
European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said the announcement by Government on Wednesday had come as a “very negative surprise”.
The Cabinet Office Minister Lord Frost said the UK was extending a series of “grace periods” designed to ease trade between Northern Ireland, which remains in the EU single market for goods, and Great Britain while permanent arrangements are worked out.
It provoked a furious response in Brussels, with the EU accusing Britain of going back on its treaty obligations in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement intended to ensure there is no return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Sefcovic said the European Commission was now working on “infringement proceedings” against the UK.
“We are currently preparing it and it would be really something coming to our table very soon. The most precise term I can give you is really very soon,” he said.
Speaking on the BBC, Mr Kwarteng said the EU’s attitude had been “appallingly aggressive’ and the contrast on vaccines had a “lot of things to do with it”.
“I think the problems that the EU are having with the vaccine rollout where I think 40 percent of adults in the UK have been vaccinated, whereas that figure in France is about 7 percent – these are serious issues,” he said.
“I think a lot of this is about the fact that there are people when you read the papers in Europe, there’s a lot of anger about the vaccine rollout, there was a headline in a German newspaper saying ‘We envy you’ – and the you was in English. There’s a real agitation about this and I think that people are playing politics with this.”
Ms Truss told Sky News: “These are temporary easements and it’s perfectly common practice whilst deals are being implemented to have temporary easements in place.
“That is not a breach of the protocol and we’re very clear about that.”
The Northern Ireland protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement was designed by the EU and UK to avoid a hardening of the border on the island of Ireland.
It means keeping Northern Ireland aligned to various EU rules, requiring checks on goods arriving into the region from Great Britain.
Meanwhile the White House has again stressed the support of new US President Joe Biden for the Good Friday Agreement which the protocol is intended to protect.
Press secretary Jen Psaki said: “President Biden has been unequivocal about his support for the Good Friday Agreement.
“It has been the bedrock of peace, stability and prosperity for all the people of Northern Ireland.”
Prior to last year’s election, Mr Biden – who is intensely proud of his Irish roots – warned the agreement must not become a casualty of Brexit.
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