EU restarts legal action against UK in clash over Brexit bill
The European Union is restarting infringement proceedings against the UK and will launch two new legal actions after London proposed legislation to override part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, according to an EU official.
The UK0s plan to unilaterally disapply an international agreement is a breach of international law, said the official, who declined to be named on a confidential issue. Scrapping the role of the European Court of Justice in governing disputes is out of the question, the official said Wednesday.
The new infringement cases being launched by the bloc concern the UK’s failure to carry out its obligations under the EU’s sanitary and phytosanitary rules, the official added.
The European Commission started a formal infringement process in March 2021 over implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, which keeps the area in the EU’s single market while creating a customs border with the rest of the UK. The EU’s executive arm said at the time that unilateral decisions and international law violations by the UK defeated its very purpose and undermined trust between Brussels and London.
The legal action over alleged breaches of the protocol was paused last year to give the two sides space to negotiate. Infringement proceedings could ultimately lead to financial penalties being imposed on the UK, but the cases will play out over the course of many months.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is heading for a fresh fight with his own Conservative Party over his proposed legislation published Monday, which would give ministers the power to unilaterally rewrite the bulk of the protocol. The new bill is likely to run into trouble in Parliament’s unelected upper chamber - the House of Lords - where peers have repeatedly pushed back on efforts to override the Brexit agreement.
The bill would allow ministers to introduce green and red trade channels, separating goods just flowing between Britain and Northern Ireland from goods intended for the EU. It would also strip the ECJ of its role in settling disputes over the Brexit deal in the region, allowing instead an independent arbitration panel to oversee legal issues.
Other options open to the EU include suspending its trade agreement with Britain, stopping the privileged access UK companies have to the single market and halting talks over the status of Gibraltar.
EU financial services commissioner Mairead McGuinness told Bloomberg TV earlier Wednesday that Johnson’s push is driven more by internal politics than a concern for the region.
“I think this is about politics in the Conservative Party,” McGuinness said. When the referendum to leave the EU took place six years ago, “do you remember much discussion about Northern Ireland, its needs, its difficulties?”
Johnson’s ministers have shifted the justification for rewriting the protocol, from focusing primarily on trade disruption to the threat to Northern Ireland’s fragile politics. The Democratic Unionist Party balked at the rules Johnson signed up to, and is now refusing to take its place in Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government until the protocol is removed.
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