16th Aug 2022

EU takes legal action against UK over post-Brexit trade

  • EU commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič showing off three pages of draft certificates that businesses would need to fill out if the UK agreed with the EU on simplifying the protocol rules (Photo: European Commission)
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The EU took legal action against London on Wednesday (15 June) after the UK earlier this week put forward legislation scraping parts of the EU-UK agreement governing post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland.

The EU Commission decided to continue a previously suspended legal probe against the UK for not implementing parts of the protocol on certificates on agri-food products.

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That infringement procedure was launched in March 2021, but was put on hold in the hope of constructive negotiations, the commission argued.

The commission also launched two new probes against London, for failing to carry out sanitary checks by not placing enough staff and infrastructure at the ports of Northern Ireland, and for failing to provide trade data for the EU on Northern Ireland.

These are all covered under the protocol, which is part of the EU-UK divorce deal. The protocol has essentially put a customs border at the Irish Sea to avoid a hard border on the island of Northern Ireland, potentially destabilising the fragile peace in the province.

"The UK government on Monday tabled legislation confirming its intention to unilaterally break international law," EU commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič told reporters on Wesnesday.

He added that "there is no legal nor political justification for unilaterally changing an international agreement".

"Let's call a spade a spade, this is illegal," Šefčovič said, adding that it is "extremely damaging to mutual trust".

He added the UK has not engaged in meaningful negotiations since February.

The Slovak commissioner reiterated the commission's offer to negotiate on making the implementation of the protocol easier: reducing sanitary checks, cutting customs paperwork, and creating an express lane for trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

"It is high time to show some political will to find joined solutions," Šefčovič told the UK.

The UK argued that it wants the EU to renegotiate the protocol. The EU has refused to renegotiate the protocol, which was agreed by the government of prime minister Boris Johnons less than two years ago, and instead offered to ease paperwork.

Complicating matters, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refused to take part in Northern Ireland's power-sharing administration until the protocol is changed.

A spokesperson for the Johnson government said he was disappointed by the EU's decision.

"The UK's preference remains for a negotiated solution but the proposals set out by the EU today are the same proposals we have been discussing for months and would not solve the problems — in many cases they take us backwards from current arrangements," the spokesperson argued in a statement.

UK shows 'bad faith' in post-Brexit talks, Irish PM says

"It is perfectly reasonable to look for ways to improve the operation of the protocol, but unfortunately what we have seen are bad-faith efforts to undermine a treaty freely entered into," Irish premier Michael Martin told MEPs.


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British foreign secretary Liz Truss said the UK has "no choice but to act" on the Northern Ireland protocol governing post-Brexit trade during a call with EU Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič — who warned unilateral action was "simply not acceptable".

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