The European Union on Friday abruptly reversed a plan to use emergency Brexit measures to restrict exports of COVID-19 vaccines from crossing the Irish border into the United Kingdom after it sent shockwaves through Northern Ireland, London and Dublin.
In a steep escalation of the EU's fight to secure vaccine supplies, Brussels had said it would trigger clauses in the Northern Irish Protocol to prevent the vaccines from moving across the open border between EU-member Ireland and the British-run province.
Following an outcry in London, Belfast and Dublin, the EU published a statement just before midnight saying it would ensure that the Northern Ireland Protocol, designed to keep the border open, would not be affected.
It warned, however, that should vaccines and active substances move toward third countries and out of the bloc, it would use "all the instruments at its disposal".
Ireland said the EU's change of heart was welcome but that lessons should be learned.
"The Protocol is not something to be tampered with lightly, it's an essential, hard won compromise, protecting peace and trade for many," Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney said on Twitter.
The EU's original plan was intended to prevent the open border between EU-member Ireland and Northern Ireland from acting as a backdoor for vaccine supplies into the United Kingdom.