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Tue, 27 October 2020

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The EU Is Taking Legal Action Against The UK Internal Market Bill

The EU Is Taking Legal Action Against The UK Internal Market Bill

Boris Johnson with EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen (Credit: PA)

4 min read

The EU is planning to take legal action against the UK government's controversial Internal Market Bill.

The European Commission will send a “letter of formal notice” to the UK on Thursday for breaching the 'good faith' terms of the withdrawal agreement.

The Commons backed Boris Johnson's Brexit plan, designed to enable goods and services to flow freely across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, earlier this week.

It follows several clashes with angry MPs over the government's aim to give itself the power to break international law on Brexit, with Attoney General Suella Braverman defending the move as a “pretty basic principle of law”.

The commission formally announced its intentions via president Ursula von der Leyen, who said the draft bill "by its very nature [is] a breach of the obligations of good faith laid down in the withdrawl agreement".

She added: "If adopted as is, it will be in full contradiction to the protocol of Ireland/Northern Ireland.

"The deadline lapsed yesterday and the problematic provisions have not been removed. 

"Therefore this morning the commission has decided to send a letter of formal notice to the UK government. This is the first step in an infringement procedure."

Ministers have one month to respond to the letter, during which time the commission "will continue to work towards the full and timely implementation of the withdrawal agreement", Ms von der Leyen said. 

She added: "We stand by our committment."

A UK government spokesperson said: “We will respond to the letter in due course.

“We have clearly set out our reasons for introducing the measures related to the Northern Ireland protocol. 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 Northern Ireland protocol is in place to prevent a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, allowing goods to pass freely between the two countries, but the EU has argued the UK's proposals go against rules set out in the withdrawal agreement.

The UK's former ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, told Times Radio on Wednesday that leaders in Brussels have been "shocked and disappointed" by the UK's behaviour in recent weeks.

"Much of continental Europe has always looked to the UK as a kind of bastion of the rule of law, an exemplar of kind of liberal democracy, very strong institutions," he said. 

"You know, they're hugely reliant on an awful lot of institutions and ancient institutions here that they very much look up to, and their institutions...have not had that longevity and reputation. So I think it has done it damage.

"You can have a judge how lasting the damage will be. But this has shocked people that the UK is prepared to go down this sort of route in order to gain leverage in a negotiation, or whatever the plan is."

But Labour's Rachel Reeves said both the government and EU needed to focus on securing a trade agreement.

“There is clearly a deal to be done. Both sides need to drop the posturing and the threats by getting back round the negotiating table," the shadow Cabinet Office minister said.

“The country wants the government to move on from past divisions, secure the trade agreement we need and focus on defeating this pandemic.”

Meanwhile, Lib Dem Brexit spokesperson Christine Jardine said it "beggars belief that Boris Johnson and his Government seem to think that not only are they above the law".

"How can ministers seriously condemn other countries, like Russia and China, for failing to respect international treaties if they don’t do the same when it comes to the Withdrawal Agreement?," she added.

"No-one should be surprised that the UK will face legal action if Boris Johnson pushes ahead with the Internal Market Bill. However, there is still time to ditch the bill and prevent it from becoming law. We must do what we can to salvage our international reputation."

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