The European Union has begun the process of undertaking legal proceedings against the UK after Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his administration failed to scrap plans to override sections of the Brexit divorce deal.
The move comes after the EU’s deadline for the UK government to remove sections of the Internal Market Bill passed on Wednesday. The ‘letter of formal notice’ has the potential to eventually lead to a court case being presented against the UK at the EU’s top court, the European Court of Justice.
The letter does not mean that the EU has canceled talks over a post-Brexit trade deal between the two sides. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that the UK would have until the end of November to respond to the EU’s letter, which addressed concerns over the draft legislation.
“The letter invites the UK government to send its observations within a month and besides this the Commission will continue to work hard towards full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. We stand by our commitments,” von der Leyen said in a statement.
Von der Leyen also branded the Internal Market Bill as a ‘full contradiction’ of the UK’s previous commitments on preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland at all costs. She also added that the EU believed the bill to be by its ‘very nature a breach of the obligation of good faith contained in the withdrawal agreement’ that formally took the UK out of the union in January.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the UK government insisted that the bill was a necessary ‘safety net’ that is needed to protect trade between different parts of the UK and that the UK would respond to the letter in ‘due course’.
The leader of the opposition in the UK, Sir Keir Starmer, called on both parties to put aside their differences and raised tensions over the past months to work out the best possible trade deal for both parties.
“A deal can be done here. It’s absurd that with weeks to go, the focus and the energy is not on their negotiations, it’s on threatened court proceedings,” he said.
MPs gave their final approval to the Internal Market Bill last week but it still needs to be approved by the House of Lords before it becomes law in the UK. Ministers have allowed Commons to have their say before powers could be used to override the divorce deal in order to prevent potential rebellion from Tory backbenchers.
“The European Commission has today sent the United Kingdom a letter of formal notice for breaching its obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement. This marks the beginning of a formal infringement process against the United Kingdom. It has one month to reply to today’s letter,” a statement from the European Commission read.
“Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement states that the European Union and the United Kingdom must take all appropriate measures to ensure the fulfilment of the obligations arising from the Withdrawal Agreement, and that they must refrain from any measures which could jeopardize the attainment of those objectives. Both parties are bound by the obligation to cooperate in good faith in carrying out the tasks stemming from the Withdrawal Agreement.
“On 9 September 2020, the UK government tabled a Bill (‘United Kingdom Internal Market Bill’) that, if adopted, would flagrantly violate the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland, as it would allow the UK authorities to disregard the legal effect of the Protocol’s substantive provisions under the Withdrawal Agreement. Representatives of the UK government have acknowledged this violation, stating that its purpose was to allow it to depart in a permanent way from the obligations stemming from the Protocol. The UK government has failed to withdraw the contentious parts of the Bill, despite requests by the European Union.
“By doing so, the UK has breached its obligation to act in good faith, as set out in Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Furthermore, it has launched a process, which – if the Bill is adopted – would impede the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. As a result, the Commission has launched infringement proceedings today in line with the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement,” the statement continued.
“The UK has until the end of this month to submit its observations to the letter of formal notice. After examining these observations, or if no observations have been submitted, the Commission may, if appropriate, decide to issue a Reasoned Opinion.
“Following the publication by the UK government of the draft ‘United Kingdom Internal Market Bill’ on 9 September 2020, Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič called for an extraordinary meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee to request the UK government to elaborate on its intentions and to respond to the EU’s serious concerns. The meeting took place in London on 10 September between Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič.”