Brussels, Oct 1 (efe-epa).- The European Union on Thursday began a legal procedure against the United Kingdom over a bill put forward by the British government that would breach agreements in the Brexit withdrawal deal.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen gave a brief press conference in Brussels after the EU deadline for London to retract parts of the bill that would allow it to unilaterally alter the protocol on Northern Ireland lapsed.
“As you know we had invited our British friends to remove the problematic parts of their draft internal market bill by the end of September. This draft bill is, by its very nature, a breach of the obligation of good faith laid down in the withdrawal agreement,” Von der Leyen said.
She said the bill would be in “full contradiction” to the agreed protocol on preserving a soft border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“The deadline lapsed yesterday, the problematic provisions have not been removed. Therefore this morning the commission has decided to send a letter of formal notice to the UK government. This is the first step in an infringement procedure.”
She said the UK government had one month to respond with its own observations.
The discord was triggered by the UK government’s internal market bill, a proposal that would allow ministers to override parts of the withdrawal agreement with the EU after Brexit.
The plan was approved in a first round of voting in the House of Commons on Tuesday and is now set for scrutiny in the House of Lords before it returns to the lower chamber.
Prime minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party government insists the bill is necessary to protect tariff-free trade between all four nations in the UK, including between Northern Ireland, a UK territory that shares a border with EU member Ireland, and Great Britain.
Reacting to Von der Leyen’s announcement Thursday, 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 protocol.”
Earlier in the month the EU said the draft bill would not only breach international law but could jeopardize peace in Northern Ireland — an open border was enshrined in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that put an end to decades of sectarian conflict.
According to the divorce deal, which has been signed off by the EU and Johnson, Northern Ireland would continue to adhere to some EU regulations after Brexit in order to prevent customs checks and a return to a hard border on the island or Ireland.
The UK government wants to eliminate a customs border in the Irish Sea, which separates Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
Brexit talks between the UK and the EU have been stalling in recent weeks, heightening concerns over a possible no-deal Brexit when the UK leaves on 1 January 2021. EFE-EPA