Politics, Europe

European Commission launches legal action against UK

Brussels starts ‘infringement procedure’ over London’s law-breaking UK Internal Market Bill

Karim El-Bar   | 01.10.2020
European Commission launches legal action against UK

LONDON 

The European Commission carried out its threat on Thursday over launching legal action against the UK government regarding its law-breaking Internal Market Bill.

A letter of formal notice has been sent to the UK government.

The British government has previously publicly admitted the bill breaks international law by unilaterally overriding key parts of the Withdrawal Agreement the UK signed with the EU.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bill was a breach of the “good faith” provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement, and was “in full contradiction” to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“We had invited our British friends to remove the problematic parts of their draft Internal Market Bill by the end of September," von der Leyen said. 

"The deadline lapsed yesterday. 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.”

“Besides this the Commission will continue to work hard towards a full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. We stand by our commitments,” she said.

Brussels had previously given London time until the end of September to remove the offending clauses of the bill.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said in parliament last month that the bill “does break international law in a very specific and limited way.”

The Withdrawal Agreement has the legal force of an international treaty, and as such cannot be unilaterally changed, the EU said.

The EU will continue negotiating with the UK, as it does not want to be blamed for the potential failure of Brexit talks.

 ‘To be expected’

A government spokesperson said a reply would be sent “in due course.”

“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 spokesperson said.

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, tweeted: “Full and effective implementation of withdrawal agreement will always be an absolute priority for the EU.

“It is the result of long EU-UK negotiations and the only way to protect Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement, guaranteeing peace and stability on island of Ireland.”

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said the latest move by the EU was “to be expected.”

He added: “I think the mood is moving in the right direction towards better engagement that's always important in terms of negotiations of this kind but there are serious challenges ahead.”

Meanwhile, a survey by professional services firm EY found that over 7,500 financial services jobs and over £1.2 trillion ($1.5 trillion) in assets have moved from the UK to the EU since the Brexit referendum in 2016.

The trend is expected to accelerate as the UK’s transition period out of the EU ends at the end of this year.

The most popular destination was Dublin, followed by Luxembourg, Frankfurt, and Paris.

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