Brussels, Jun 15 (EFE).- The European Union will launch legal action against the United Kingdom over its proposal to unilaterally break the rules of a post-Brexit agreement to regulate trade in Northern Ireland.
Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission’s vice president, said in a statement Wednesday that the EU had been left with “no choice” but to revive an infringement process first drawn up in March 2021 regarding breaches that include the movement of agri-food.
The UK will have two months to respond to the process, at which point the case could land in the Court of Justice, he added.
Šefčovič announced two additional infringement cases, one accusing the UK of failing to carry out the “necessary” border controls in Northern Ireland and the other for “failing to provide the EU with essential trade statistics data to enable the EU to protect its Single Market.”
The commissioner lambasted the UK bill — which has yet to be debated and approved by lawmakers — as a demonstration of intent to “unilaterally break international law.”
“Let’s call a spade a spade: this is illegal,” he said.
“This UK bill is extremely damaging to mutual trust and respect between the EU and the UK.
“It has created deep uncertainty and casts a shadow over our overall cooperation. All at a time when respect for international agreements has never been more important,” he added.
He detailed a set of EU proposals that were put forward in October last year to address British concerns with the Protocol, describing them as “permanent solutions and simple operations of the Protocol proposed by the EU – versus – constant uncertainty with UK Ministers having an open hand to change the rules on a whim.”
The EU remained open to dialogue with London, despite the legal action, he added.
The forthright statement from the EU comes in response to a bill presented by the UK that would allow it to make major changes to the Protocol without EU permission.
Proposed changes include the introduction of measures to allow companies operating in Northern Ireland to choose between EU and UK standards, tax breaks and fast-track channels between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
Such alterations would be in breach of the Protocol, a measure that was ratified in 2020 by Brussels and London after a lengthy period of negotiations.
The Protocol avoids a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, in accordance with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, an international peace deal that brought a tentative end to vicious sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.
Under the protocol, Northern Irish customs and standards were kept in line with those of the EU single market by implementing checks on goods arriving to Northern Ireland from Great Britain across the Irish Sea.
This caveat sparked anger among pro-British politicians and communities in Northern Ireland, a UK territory, who viewed it as a new border between the country and the rest of the UK.
Feeling this pressure, Johnson’s Conservative Party government announced it would ignore elements of the Protocol that it had ratified in 2020. EFE