Ursula von der Leyen today announced the European Union is launching legal action against the UK over Boris Johnson’s plans to tear up parts of the Brexit divorce deal.
Brussels had given Downing Street until the end of September to scrap the Prime Minister’s controversial proposals which are contained within the UK Internal Market Bill.
But the UK Government refused to budge and Ms von der Leyen said this morning that as a result the bloc has now started legal proceedings.
It has sent a ‘letter of formal notice’ to Number 10 which is the first step in the so-called ‘infringement procedure’.
Speaking in Brussels she said: ‘This draft Bill is by its very nature a breach of the obligation of good faith laid down in the Withdrawal Agreement.
‘More over if adopted as is it will be in full contradiction to the protocol of Ireland/Northern Ireland.
‘The deadline lapsed yesterday. The problematic provisions have not been removed.
‘Therefore this morning the Commission has decided to send the letter of formal notice to the UK Government. This is the first step in an infringement procedure.
‘The letter invites the UK Government to send its observations within a month and besides this the Commission will continue to work hard towards a full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. We stand by our commitments.’
Downing Street said it ‘will respond to the letter in due course’ as it defended the approach it has taken.
‘We have clearly set out our reasons for introducing the measures related to the Northern Ireland Protocol,’ a Government spokesman said.
‘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 escalation of the row risks souring the atmosphere of trade talks which remain ongoing between Brussels and Britain after optimism had grown that a deal could be done in the coming weeks.
Ursula von er Leyen today announced the EU is launching legal action against the UK over Boris Johnson’s plans to tear up parts of the Brexit divorce deal
Downing Street said Mr Johnson and the Government will respond to the EU’s letter of formal notice ‘in due course’
The latest row with the EU was sparked by the publication of the Government’s UK Internal Market Bill last month.
The legislation, which is currently making its way through Parliament, will enable the UK to unilaterally make decisions on key issues, like customs arrangements between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland, contained within the Withdrawal Agreement.
But Brussels is adamant that the decisions must be made by a joint committee made up of people from both sides – a process set out in the divorce accord signed by Mr Johnson in January.
The Government has admitted its proposals will break international law ‘in a very specific and limited way’.
But it insists they are necessary in order to protect the integrity of the UK and to prevent chaos if the two sides are unable to agree terms by the end of the transition period in December.
The plans prompted fury at home and abroad as Mr Johnson faced condemnation from his own MPs, his political opponents and the EU.
Mr Johnson was also criticised by all five living former prime ministers, with Sir John Major, David Cameron, Theresa May, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown all taking aim at the PM.
Despite the widespread disquiet over the plans the Government has pressed ahead with them and earlier this week the Bill cleared its final stage in the House of Commons.
MPs backed the legislation by 340 votes to 256 and it is now set to move to the House of Lords for further scrutiny.
The Government was able to see off a potential Tory rebellion after it gave into demands to hand MPs a so-called ‘parliamentary lock’ on the use of the powers.
That means that if ministers ever want to depart from the Withdrawal Agreement they will have to ask Parliament for permission first in the form of a formal vote.
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage responded to the EU’s announcement today by arguing the Withdrawal Agreement ‘should never have been signed in the first place’.
He tweeted: ‘The “oven ready deal” was an international treaty — for the EU Commission, that is like the Bible.
‘Whilst the EU always acts in bad faith, all they are doing today is asking Boris to keep his promises.
‘It should never have been signed in the first place.’
Best for Britain CEO Naomi Smith
“The Government’s ill-thought through Internal Market Bill has already embarrassed Britain on the international stage, but now it’s clear that it threatens to blow up the chances of a trade deal too.
“For all the positive noises coming out of talks in recent weeks, UK negotiators will be understandably frustrated that this Bill could derail everything.
“That will have severe consequences for our economic recovery, and could see countless businesses who are already on the brink plunged into the red.”
The publication of the Bill prompted emergency talks in London last month between Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic.
Mr Sefcovic gave Mr Gove a deadline of the end of September for the UK to scrap the plans.
He told his counterpart that ‘the Withdrawal Agreement contains a number of mechanisms and legal remedies to address violations of the legal obligations contained in the text – which the European Union will not be shy in using’.
But Mr Gove said the UK ‘could not and would not’ retreat on the issue as he promised the Government would not back down, putting the two sides on a collision course.