The EU has launched legal proceedings against the UK government for passing legislation that breaks international law by overriding key parts of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
A “letter of formal notice” has been sent by the EU who earlier this month set a September 30 deadline for Boris Johnson’s government to remove parts of the highly controversial Internal Market Bill.
On Monday the European Commission (EC) warned it would “not be shy” in pursuing “legal remedies” if the contentious clauses were not removed. However, the government dismissed the request and concessions made by Johnson to concerned MPs – rather than Brussels – saw the bill pass its final reading in the Commons on Tuesday night by 340 votes for and 256 against. It will now be debated in the House of Lords .
‘The bill is in full contradiction to the Irish protocol’ – EC president
“We had invited our British friends to remove the problematic parts of their draft internal market bill by the end of September,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the EC president.
“This draft [Internal Markets] 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 and Northern Ireland.”
The controversial clauses provide ministers with legal powers to override the Northern Ireland protocol which Johnson negotiated and signed up to less than 12 months ago. The protocol is designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland – which is now a possibility that threatens the Good Friday Agreement and decades of peace.
Despite beginning legal proceedings, post-Brexit trade talks continue between the UK and EU and von der Leyen has given London until the end of November to respond to Brussels’ concerns about the “problematic provisions” in the internal markets bill.
Johnson has already stated that both sides should “move on” if no agreement is made before mid-October and claims the bill provides a necessary “safety net” to protect trade between the different parts of the UK.
Von der leyen said the letter of formal notice to the UK government is “the first step in an infringement procedure.”
Farage’s ‘4 years of agony’
Such proceedings “take on average 35 months to complete” and the process could end up in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) where huge daily fines could be imposed on the UK until the law is changed.
A spokesperson for the government 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 protocol. We need to create a legal safety net to protect the integrity of the UK’s internal market, ensure ministers can always deliver on their obligations to Northern Ireland and protect the gains from the peace process.”
Brexit party leader Nigel Farage tweeted: “We can never have a clean break Brexit with an EU treaty. After 4 years of agony the time has come to just leave.”