Ursula von der Leyen called to ‘step down’ by MEP
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Speaking in a plenary debate in the European Parliament, the European Commission President launched a defence of the EU’s approach to coronavirus vaccines. Ms von der Leyen was blasted by Irish officials for the Commission triggering Article 16 of the Brexit trade deal’s Northern Ireland Protocol to stop vaccine trade between the Irish states.
Ms von der Leyen said to MEPs she “deeply regretted” the Commission’s actions in Ireland.
She said: “The bottom line is that mistakes were made in the process leading up to the decision.
“And I deeply regret that, but in the end we got it right.
“I can assure you that my Commission will do its utmost to protect the peace in Northern Ireland.”
Irish MEPs pressed Ms von der Leyen on the row, and forced her to acknowledge the Article 16 issue in the meeting.
Green MEP Grace O’Sullivan called the attempt to override the Brexit trade deal a “grave mistake”.
She added: “President, you did not get it right.
“What concrete steps will you put in place to assure the people of Ireland, north and south, that the delicate situation on the island of Ireland is never threatened like this again?”
Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol allows both the EU and UK to override the Brexit trade deal to implement safeguards for trade if the agreement “leads to serious economic, societal, or environmental difficulties”.
The EU triggered, and eventually retracted, the use of the article over fears vaccine supply was being diverted from the bloc to the UK through Northern Ireland.
Michael Gove, UK Cabinet Office Minister, said on Monday the EU had opened “Pandora’s Box” by triggering the article.
Speaking to a Commons committee, he said it was a moment “when trust was eroded, when damage was done”, and when Ireland and other EU member states were “ridden roughshod over”.
But he added he believed issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol can be resolved without scrapping the agreement.
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Addressing criticism of the EU’s rollout of coronavirus jabs, Ms von der Leyen also admitted “we are still not where we want to be”.
She said: “We were late to authorise. We were too optimistic when it came to massive production.
“And perhaps we were too confident that what we ordered would actually be delivered on time.”
The Commission President insisted the Commission’s vaccine strategy was “the right thing to do,” before repeating promise to deliver vaccines outside the bloc to poorer countries.
So far the UK has administered around 13.16 million coronavirus jabs to Brits as of February 8.
Of that number, 13,058,298 have been first doses and 519,553 have been second doses.
Germany has issued the most vaccines in the EU, with more than three million people receiving the jab, while Italy and France have both exceeded two million.
Yesterday saw the UK record 13,013 cases and 1,001 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test.
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