The DUP’s Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has called the Northern Ireland Protocol a “stick for the EU to beat the UK with” after Brexit.

The mechanism was developed at the 11th hour to ease issues around the Irish border, one of the major sticking points in Brexit negotiations.

However, there was anger when the EU moved to use the protocol to stop the unimpeded flow of vaccines from the bloc into Northern Ireland as part of efforts to place controls on the export of Covid vaccines amid its row with AstraZeneca over its supply contract.

READ MORE: Analysis: Euro 'misjudgement' managed to unite London, Belfast and Dublin in fury at Brussels

The DUP’s Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told Times Radio: “That the EU was going to use the Northern Ireland Protocol as the very instrument to create a medicines border on the island of Ireland, to create a border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland for the very thing that people are looking for most at the moment – this coronavirus vaccine – just left me feeling absolutely incredulous.

“I’m glad they backed down but I’m afraid the genie is out of the bottle and that genie is that the EU clearly sees the Northern Ireland Protocol as a stick to beat the UK with.

“They did it yesterday, they will do it again. That is why we have said to the Prime Minister this protocol is harming the integrity of the UK single market. It is harming the Northern Ireland economy.” 

READ MORE: Article 16 Northern Ireland: EU ends threat to override NI Brexit deal in bid to control vaccine exports

Article 16 of the protocol gives the EU or the UK the ability to unilaterally suspend aspects of its operation if either side considers that aspect is causing “economic, societal or environmental difficulties”.

It is only supposed to be triggered in the face of “serious” problems, and if one side triggers Article 16, the other side can take rebalancing action in response.