Brussels told the UK on Thursday to immediately scrap its plans to override Britain’s Brexit treaty or face legal action, in a sharp escalation of the two sides’ dispute over the measures.
In a terse statement, the European Commission handed Britain an end-of-September deadline to withdraw its planned internal market bill, warning that the draft legislation was a threat to the Good Friday Agreement that had “seriously damaged trust between the EU and the UK”.
The statement followed an emergency meeting of the joint EU-UK committee that oversees last year’s Brexit deal — a meeting called for by Brussels after the UK government’s shock decision to break international law by using parliament to override parts of the protocol on Northern Ireland enshrined in the UK’s withdrawal agreement.
The commission said Maros Sefcovic, the EU’s lead representative on the joint committee, had laid bare Brussels’ deep concerns about the violation of the Northern Ireland protocol, warning that the future of trade talks with the UK was at stake.
Mr Sefcovic called on the UK government to “withdraw these measures from the draft bill in the shortest time possible and in any case by the end of the month”.
He stated the move had “seriously damaged trust between the EU and the UK”. The commission’s statement added that it was now “up to the UK government to re-establish that trust”.
“If adopted as proposed, the draft bill would be in clear breach of substantive provisions of the protocol,” Brussels said.
The EU has rejected arguments put forward by UK ministers that the plans are a necessary safeguard to preserve the peace process in Northern Ireland should the joint committee be unable to resolve issues on how to apply the protocol.
“The EU does not accept the argument that the aim of the draft bill is to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement,” the commission said. “In fact, it is of the view that it does the opposite.”
The commission also made it clear that the UK faced legal action if it failed to comply, saying Mr Sefcovic “reminded the UK government 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”.
An internal EU commission analysis paper, seen by the Financial Times, warns that even by just putting forward the bill, Britain was “in violation of the good faith obligation” enshrined in its EU withdrawal agreement.
The paper runs through Brussels’ options for action under the treaty, including hauling the country before the European Court of Justice or launching an arbitration process — either of which could end in fines.