Brussels is suing the United Kingdom over plans to violate last year’s Brexit withdrawal agreement, which could lead to Britain being hauled before the European Court of Justice, Financial Times reports.
Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said that Brussels had sent a “letter of formal notice” to the UK over prime minister Boris Johnson’s “internal market bill.”The letter is the first stage of formal EU “infringement proceedings.”
The commission decided to act even though the UK bill is not yet law because it believes Johnson has breached “good faith” provisions in last year’s treaty by even tabling the draft legislation.
“This draft bill is by its very nature a breach of the obligation of good faith laid down in the withdrawal agreement, moreover, if adopted as is, it will be in full contradiction to the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland,” von der Leyen. She said that Britain had one month to send its observations before Brussels escalates the process.
Brussels moved to act after the UK government ignored an end of September deadline issued by the EU for the offending articles of the bill to be removed. With that deadline having passed at midnight, Brussels has taken the earliest possible opportunity to launch legal action, arguing that the integrity of last year’s deal is at stake.
Under the terms of last year’s deal, the commission can still initiate such infringement proceedings even though Britain has left the EU.
The British government’s bill would allow the UK to override crucial parts of the delicate compromise that Johnson and the EU negotiated last year on Northern Ireland — notably on sensitive points around state aid and export documentation.
Brussels has insisted, since news of the bill first broke in September, that the measures must be scrapped, but UK Cabinet Office Minister, Michael Gove told the commission on Monday that Britain would not back down.
“The deadline lapsed yesterday, the problematic provisions have not been removed.
“The commission will continue to work hard towards a full and timely implementation. We stand by our commitments,” von der Leyen said.
A UK government spokesperson said: “We will respond to the letter in due course.”
“We have clearly set out our reasons for introducing the measures related to the Northern Ireland protoco.
“We need to create a legal safety net to protect the integrity of the UK’s internal market,” spokesperson said
UK officials played down the significance of the legal move and its likely impact on negotiations.
“They are always infracting someone,” said one official, adding that the timetable for the legal action was the most important thing.