Brussels, 1 October 2020 (dpa/MIA) – The European Commission has launched legal action against Britain over its new Internal Market Bill.
“The commission has decided to send a letter of formal notice to the UK government. This is the first step in an infringement procedure,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday.
“This draft bill is by its very nature a breach of the obligation of good faith laid down by the withdrawal agreement,” she added.
The EU executive had warned Britain to withdraw its proposed Internal Market Bill by the end of September.
The Internal Market Bill gives Prime Minister Boris Johnson the power to override a provision in the withdrawal agreement that would impose different post-Brexit customs rules on Northern Ireland than the rest of the United Kingdom.
“If adopted as is, it will be in full contradiction to the protocol of Ireland/Northern Ireland,” von der Leyen said on Thursday.
The commission’s letter requests Britain provide further information within a month, the first step in an infringement procedure.
The infringement process can ultimately result in the top EU court imposing sanctions, but this process takes at least several months.
A result can hence only be expected after Britain’s transition period runs out at the end of the year.
Britain swiftly defended its move.
“We have clearly set out our reasons for introducing the measures related to the Northern Ireland protocol,” a spokesperson said, noting the government would respond to the commission in due course.
“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,” the spokesperson said.
Anna Cavazzini, a European Parliament member from the Green Party, welcomed the commission’s move.
“With his Internal Market Bill, Boris Johnson not only undermines the withdrawal agreement with the EU, which he himself signed, but also shakes the foundation of the Good Friday Agreement and peace on the Irish island,” she said.
The announcement comes amid another negotiation round between the two trading partners to thrash out a deal on future relations, scheduled to conclude on Friday.
The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has warned that an agreement has to be found by mid-October at the latest.