The European Union are set to explore legal options against Britain as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to undercut aspects of the Brexit deal already agreed between the two parties.
The UK government has asserted intentions to act outside the confines of international law and breach the Brexit divorce deal as EU negotiators and officials attempt to devise a plan for how to act with the country, which is currently in the midst of a transition period that ends of December 31 2020.
European Commission Vice President and Slovak national Maroš Šefčovič highlighted his concern about the UK’s plan before he conducted a meeting with UK Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove. The meeting was planned to take place alongside trade talks between senior negotiators David Frost and Michael Barnier.
A number of EU officials have come out and said it would be possible for the bloc to use the Withdrawal Agreement between the two sides to take legal action against the UK, but this would not yield a resolution before the December 31 deadline for the full and final divorce.
An EU source told Reuters that Britain would fail if it attempted to try and use the planned breach of the withdrawal agreement as a threat in hopes of extracting concessions from the bloc in ongoing trade talks.
“If they try to do that, it will fail,” the EU source said.
The UK government has responded to criticism by saying it is simply trying to protect its internal market, as well as the Northern Ireland peace process. Trade talks between the two sides are continuing, with talks between the UK’s Brexit negotiator and his EU counterpart Michael Barnier ongoing.
For the EU, the main source of concern is Boris Johnson’s intentions to put through the Internal Market Bill, which addresses the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is a major aspect of the withdrawal agreement intended to ensure the return of a hard border to the island of Ireland is avoided.
“To make provision in connection with the internal market for goods and services in the United Kingdom (including provision about the recognition of professional and other qualifications); to make provision in connection with provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol relating to trade and state aid; to authorize the provision of financial assistance by Ministers of the Crown in connection with economic development, infrastructure, culture, sport and educational or training activities and exchanges; to make regulation of the provision of distortive or harmful subsidies a reserved or excepted matter; and for connected purposes,” the summary of the bill reads.
The bill also proposes that there should be no new checks on the movement of goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and would give UK ministers the power to modify or ‘disapply’ the rules that come into force next year that relate to the movement of goods, as long as the UK and EU are unable to complete a trade deal.
“My job is to uphold the integrity of the UK but also to protect the Northern Ireland peace process and the Good Friday Agreement,” Boris Johnson said, speaking on the TV show Prime Minister’s Questions.
“And to do that, we need a legal safety net to protect our country against extreme or irrational interpretations of the Protocol, which could lead to a border down the Irish Sea, in a way that I believe would be prejudicial to the interests of the Good Friday Agreement and prejudicial to the interests of peace in our country. And that has to be our priority.”
Irish Prime Minister Michael Martin has said that the latest developments mean he is not at all optimistic of a Brexit deal.
“The stakes are higher now because of the British action,” he said.
“The publication of the bill signals an attempt by the UK government to essentially break its commitment entered into an international agreement and that is very serious.
“I think the European Union leadership will be very concerned in how negotiations go from here,” the 60-year-continued, claiming he stressed ‘outright opposition’ to the UK’s latest move in a phone call with Boris Johnson last week.
“Trust has been eroded but he made it clear to me that the UK was fully committed to meeting the obligations of protecting the single market and fluidity of trade north and south. The legislation runs counter to that.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi also released a statement on the matter, praising the Good Friday Agreement and asserting that the UK cannot be allowed to ‘imperil the agreement.’
“The UK must respect the Northern Ireland Protocol as signed with the EU to ensure the free flow of goods across the border,” Ms Pelosi said.
“If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress,” she added.