Brussels has taken legal action against the UK over the Northern Ireland Protocol, as relations between the two sides sour over Boris Johnson’s plans to tear up the provision of his Brexit deal from 2020 with EU.
The European Commission announced on Wednesday it would resume a previously halted legal action against the UK for failing to implement comprehensive border checks for goods arriving in Northern Ireland from Britain.
These were put in place by the protocol, the part of the Brexit deal that covers trade deals in the region, which aims to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The committee’s decisions were unveiled by Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič after London published legislation this week that would effectively tear up much of the protocol by eliminating some border controls, sidelining the European Court of Justice and giving British ministers the power to override the agreement.
The infringement procedure could ultimately lead to fines against the UK.
“There is no legal or political justification for unilaterally changing an international agreement,” Šefčovič said. “Let’s call a spade a spade: it’s illegal. The UK bill is extremely damaging to mutual trust and respect between the EU and the UK. This has created deep uncertainty.
The Biden administration has urged the British prime minister and European leaders to find a negotiated settlement.
Johnson justifies the legislation on the grounds that “urgent” action is needed to stabilize the peace process in Northern Ireland; pro-British trade unionists oppose the UK’s internal trade border on the Irish Sea.
But on Wednesday, the British Prime Minister’s allies admitted they were in no rush to hold a second reading of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill – his first hurdle in the House of Commons – saying only that they were expecting him before the summer holidays.
Johnson wants to pressure the Democratic Unionist Party, the largest loyalist party, to commit to returning to the frozen NI power-sharing executive at Stormont before holding the second reading.
A minister said it was possible the bill would remain on hold until the autumn unless the DUP signaled it was ready to return to the executive. “It’s up to the DUP to intervene,” said the minister.
“We at least need evidence that they are on a glide path,” said a government official, who said the legislation was intended to save the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which created the new framework. Politics.
The DUP welcomed the legislation but did not guarantee it would join the power-sharing executive with Sinn Féin, the nationalist party that won the May election.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson says he has a mandate to stand firm – a recent Lucid Talk poll for the Belfast Telegraph found that 92% of DUP voters and three-quarters of Unionist voters said the party should only revert to the assembly and executive if the protocol is removed or significantly changed.
People familiar with party thinking cite distrust of the British government. “If he hadn’t broken his word so many times to the people of Northern Ireland then maybe things would be different,” one said.
The UK said the EU’s decision to relaunch legal action against Britain was disappointing, adding it would prefer “a negotiated solution” to the protocol dispute.
But Šefčovič said the commission had refrained from taking legal action over the past year “because we were looking for constructive solutions”.
While adding that measures already included in the protocol could ease trade frictions, the UK government said the EU’s proposals to resolve the dispute “were the same proposals we’ve been discussing for months” and “in many cases. . . takes us back in relation to the current provisions”.
An EU infringement procedure can take several months before a case is sent to the EU’s highest court, which can impose fines.
But the EU also has other means of pressure, such as increased controls by national customs authorities on goods from Great Britain.
If Johnson manages to push through the legislation, the EU could impose tariffs on British goods, or even end parts of its post-Brexit trade deal.
Johnson is also embroiled in a separate dispute with the European Court of Human Rights – separate from the EU – which issued an injunction on Tuesday to halt a British deportation of migrants to Rwanda.
The British Prime Minister has left open the “option” to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, the treaty which the ECHR applies and which is integrated into the Good Friday agreement. Number 10 insisted Johnson was ‘very much aware of the need to protect’ the 1998 Belfast deal.