Tuesday, May 18

Brexit: EU ready to take legal action against UK over Northern Ireland | Brexit

The European Union is poised to launch a two-front legal assault on the UK in the coming days after the British government’s unilateral decision to allow companies in Northern Ireland more time to adjust to post-Brexit rules.

EU27 ambassadors were briefed on Tuesday about the plans, which are likely to involve the initiation of a formal “infringement procedure” that could end at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and the activation of the dispute mechanism in the withdrawal agreement. of Brexit.

European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič told ambassadors that plans were still being worked out, but diplomats said on Wednesday there was full agreement at the meeting that the EU “had to act firmly” and that action it could start earlier this week.

To avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, the Northern Ireland protocol, which is part of the withdrawal agreement, requires checks on goods transiting from Great Britain to Northern Ireland to make sure they comply with the block’s rules. .

Some controls have already disrupted supply chains in Northern Ireland, sparking protests from unionist parties, but grace periods, the first of which expires at the end of this month, have so far delayed their full implementation.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said last week that the UK would unilaterally extend grace periods, arguing that the government had to act to protect Northern Ireland’s interests and keep shelves supplied.

Šefčovič, EU co-chair of the joint committee that oversees the implementation of the withdrawal agreement, accused the UK of violating it and potentially violating international law, as well as a “clear deviation” from constructive cooperation.

The commission said it had not been informed of the decision before Lewis reported to parliament, suggesting that it represented a major blow to confidence between the two parties after an already difficult post-Brexit period.

As it did last September when the British government introduced the domestic market bill, which it said violated the protocol, the EU is now ready to launch a formal “infringement procedure” that could ultimately end before the ECJ.

The commission believes it has established the legal basis for such a step, which would be launched by a formal notice accusing the UK of violating EU law. Britain would have several weeks to respond, but could face penalties or even fines if it fails to comply with an ECJ decision.

The commission is also prepared to send a second letter, this time to the joint committee, accusing the UK of violating article 167 of the withdrawal agreement, which requires both parties to consult and act in good faith in its implementation, allowing the solution of treaty controversies. mechanism to be activated.

The long-awaited EU announcement comes amid growing frustration over what many see as the confrontational stance taken by Lord Frost, the UK’s former Brexit negotiator, who replaced Michael Gove as UK representative on the committee. set.

Frost failed to alert Šefčovič that the UK was planning to announce unilateral action last week, and has also upset the bloc with an opinion piece in a Sunday newspaper urging him to “stop sulking” and get over what he called his ” ill will “over the UK. exit. The UK has said the EU was briefed at “official level” and denied violating international law.

A UK government spokesperson said: “These measures are legal and consistent with a progressive and good faith implementation of the protocol.”


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