The EU “recognise they made a mistake” by invoking a Brexit deal clause to prevent coronavirus vaccine shipments entering the UK, Michael Gove has said.
The bloc has faced widespread criticism after its short-lived move to override part of the agreement on Northern Ireland over export controls.
And Minister for the Cabinet Office Mr Gove said the union now realised it was in the wrong – and promised the UK would “work with them to make sure their own problems can be tackled”.
He said “we need a reset” of relations following the furore, which was sparked by a row between the EU and AstraZeneca over supply of its COVID-19 jab.
Brussels had sought to halt vaccines entering the UK through “the back door” with checks at the border of the Republic and Northern Ireland, by triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
It backtracked on the move – which a former European prime minister has suggested it should consider apologising for – after condemnation from London, Dublin and Belfast, with leaders all blindsided by the decision.
And Mr Gove said: “I think the European Union recognise that they made a mistake in triggering Article 16, which would have meant the re-imposition of a border on the island of Ireland.
“But now the European Union have stepped back, and they’ve stepped back following clear conversations that the prime minister has had with the European Commission president and I’ve had with European Commission vice president.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster had described Brussels’ actions as “absolutely disgraceful” and an “incredible act of hostility”.
Tory MP and former Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers said she sympathised with Ms Foster over the episode.
“After all the self-righteousness the EU demonstrated about not having a hard border on the island of Ireland, then to invoke Article 16 just 29 days after the protocol came into effect seems drastic and, quite frankly, unjustified,” she told Sky News.
EU officials say they have asked AstraZeneca to send some doses manufactured in the UK to Europe to make up the shortfall, although the firm has said its contract with the UK prevented this.
The European Commission also announced it was setting up controls on coronavirus vaccine supplies from the EU to outside the bloc, while insisting it was not a ban.
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