Politics

Ursula von der Leyen ‘deeply regrets’ move to control vaccine exports to Northern Ireland

Ursula von der Leyen called to ‘step down’ by MEP

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The European Commission President conceded she had made a mistake by planning to impose a hard border in Ireland. The move to prevent Covid jabs entering the UK inflamed tensions between Britain and the EU amid growing anger at the bloc’s shambolic vaccine rollout. Mrs von der Leyen told the European Parliament: “The bottom line is mistakes were made ­leading up to the decision. I deeply regret that. 

“In the end we got it right and I can reassure you that my Commission will do its utmost to protect the peace on Northern Ireland, just as it has done through the entire Brexit process.”

The top Eurocrat made a dramatic U-turn on the plan to introduce checks on the Irish border after protests from Dublin, Belfast and Westminster, who learned of it via social media.

Furious Irish MEPs called on Mrs von der Leyen for guarantees that the EU will not seek to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol to prevent a hard border again.

Chris MacManus of Sinn Fein said: “It is unacceptable the Commission didn’t see the portent of destabilising the withdrawal treaty and Good Friday Agree-ment by proposing the use of Article 16.

“Now we must ensure the fiasco isn’t repeated.” 

Green party MEP Grace O’Sullivan asked: “What 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 again?”

Mrs von der Leyen’s admission came after figures showed Britain has jabbed more people than all 27 EU nations together. A total of 13 million Britons have had a first dose, ­com- pared with 12.18 million in the bloc.

The NHS is vaccinating almost five times quicker, with a quarter of all adults in England having at least one jab. But Mrs von der Leyen defended the EU, which has delivered to four per cent of its population.

She said: “I cannot even imagine what would have happened if just a handful of big players, big member states had rushed to it and ­everybody else would have been left empty handed.”

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