President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen’s handling of the vaccine row between Brussels and Westminster was a “diplomatic disaster” that has torpedoed relations between the EU and UK, one of Europe’s most high profile politicians has said.
Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian prime minister and the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator until last year, blamed Ms von der Leyen for exacerbating the vaccines “fiasco”.
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Mr Verhofstadt was particularly critical of the European Commission president’s panicked handling of the situation that saw her threaten to introduce a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.
According to a report in The Times, he said: “The use of the Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol has been a diplomatic disaster that destroyed in a few seconds the seriousness of the negotiations with the UK conducted by the European Commission’s Head of Task Force for Relations with the UK, Michel Barnier for more than three years.”
He also warned Ms von der Leyen’s failure to secure a steady supply of Covid-19 vaccines as quickly as the UK risked “prolonging drastically the Covid-19 pandemic on mainland Europe”.
“A fiasco I called it and a fiasco it is. After two months the rollout of vaccines is dramatically low in Europe. On average no more than 4 per cent of European citizens received a first dose,” he added.
“The introduction of new export authorisation for Covid-19 vaccines adds only unnecessary burdens and by doing so prolongs and doesn’t speed up vaccinations.”
Meanwhile, European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič said the EU is “always ready to deliver” on its commitments surrounding the post-Brexit arrangements to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
DUP East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell reiterated the need for the Government to take direct and meaningful action to “restore” Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market following disruption of supplies.
Mr Šefčovič told Euronews the EU stood by its commitments but the UK must realise the effort is a “two-way street”.
“I believe if the UK used all the flexibilities which we already agreed upon in December, then also the implementation of the protocol would be much easier.”
A series of Loyalist signs have been posted near the sea port of Larne in County Antrim, in Northern Ireland, criticising the protocol in trenchant terms.
— to inews.co.uk