by N. Peter Kramer
‘Misjudgement’, mismanagement’ ‘blunder’ … and words that were far stronger you could hear from EU insiders about the European Commission’s initial decision on Friday to suspend part of the Brexit deal agreement on Northern Ireland, in its rush to impose restrictions on Covid vaccines, or components of vaccines, exported by memberstates. The EU vaccine roll-out is in deep trouble. EU countries are openly desperate to get hold of the jabs they have been promised to put in voters’ arms.
Representatives of the member states are saying they were blindsided by the European Commission move, even the one of Ireland. ‘We certainly weren’t asked about’, one diplomat said to the BBC. ‘If we had been, we would have shouted loudly that it was a terrible idea. The decision was taken in a hurry by the top (of the Commission). Even more astonishing, considering the huge sensitivity of the Northern Island chapter of the Brexit deal, EU member Ireland was not consulted or even informed, of the Commission’s intention’. Nor were those in the Commission with intimate knowledge of the post-Brexit Northern Island arrangement: former EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and colleagues. Barnier tried to intervene on Friday evening, urging a swift U-turn on the decision. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Irish colleague Micheal Martin held separate conversations with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Remember how long and difficult the Brexit negotiations were in reaching an agreement on Northern Island? And how often Barnier lectured the UK government about the importance of respecting the deal? How peace in Northern Island was at stake? The impression the European Commission gave on Friday is that these concerns could be thrown aside in a heartbeat.