EU taking new legal action against UK on ‘illegal’ protocol move

Patience in Brussels ‘has been tested to the extreme by Boris Johnson', said a member of the European Parliament.

Brexit and EU

The European Union has launched fresh legal proceedings against the UK over failing to implement parts of the post-Brexit agreement the government signed with the bloc.

Earlier this week, the government published plans to amend the Northern Ireland protocol, designed to keep the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland open, and safeguard the Good Friday Agreement, which helped put an end to years of sectarian violence.

Damaged trust

European leaders have branded the move to rewrite the agreement as “illegal,” with the European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic saying the legislation had damaged trust and “cast a shadow” over UK-EU co-operation.

The British government argues the protocol needs to be ‘fixed’ to avoid “burdensome customs processes, inflexible regulation, tax and spend discrepancies and democratic governance issues.”

Speaking to reporters today, Sefcovic said: “Let there be no doubt: there is no legal nor political justification whatsoever for unilaterally changing an international agreement. Opening the door to unilaterally changing an international agreement is a breach of international law as well.

“So let’s call a spade a spade: this is illegal,” he added.

A three-tiered legal response

Sefcovic announced that the EU would be launching a three-tiered legal response. It will include recommencing earlier legal action taken when the UK, in 2021, unilaterally extended a grace period on checks on agrifood products travelling between Northern Ireland and Britain.

Additionally, Sefcovic said the commission would initiate two new infringement proceedings against Britain for failings to conduct ‘proper’ border checks in Northern Ireland and for neglecting to provide statistical data.

The legal steps could lead to Britain being fined under a dispute process overseen by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Political posturing

UK ministers insist that under the “doctrine of necessity” which allows it to breach international obligations in exceptional circumstances, the legislation is lawful.

Philippe Lamberts, a Belgium member of the European Parliament, told the BBC the protocol changes proposed by the UK were “about political posturing.”

Lamberts added that patience in Brussels, “has been tested to the extreme by Boris Johnson.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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