Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) The European Commission announced on Wednesday afternoon that it will revive temporarily suspended infringement proceedings against the UK, as well as launch two new proceedings, in view of the British Government announcing its plans to effectively scrap the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol.
EC vice president Maroš Šefčovič announced the Commission’s move on Wednesday, which some diplomats interpret as putting pressure on Britain to abandon its legislative plans and reconsider implementing the disputed part of the Brexit agreement.
“The UK government tabled legislation confirming its intention to unilaterally break international law,” said Šefčovič. “More precisely to break an agreement that protects peace and stability in Northern Ireland. Opening the door to unilaterally changing an international agreement is a breach of international law, as well. So let’s call a spade a spade. This is illegal.”
The British Government announced on Monday its legislation which would allow it to basically ignore a large part of the Brexit withdrawal treaty, the Northern Ireland Protocol. The Protocol was introduced as a workable compromise solution for both taking the UK out of the EU single market and for protecting the 1998 Belfast Good Friday Agreement.
The Good Friday Agreement brought an end to decades of sectarian violence on the Island of Ireland, by aiming to reconcile the pro-Irish Catholics and unionist Protestants in Northern Ireland. A key part of the Agreement was a pledge never to introduce a hard border on the island, but taking the UK out of the common market would necessitate introducing customs checks between Ireland, an EU member, and Northern Ireland, a UK province.
The Protocol offered a solution to effectively keep the NI within the common market, thus moving the customs and sanitary checks to the Irish Sea. However, as the UK left the EU, Northern Ireland ran into a slew of supply problems caused by such checks, even as Brussels accepted a series of delays in implementation of the Brexit treaty.
Facing strong opposition from NI unionists, which refuse to participate in forming a joint local executive with the main pro-Irish party unless the Protocol is scrapped, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to introduce legislation which would effectively reduce the majority of British obligations stemming from the Protocol.
Šefčovič announced on Wednesday that the EU would revive currently suspended infringement procedures against the UK, and introduce two new ones, threatening London the Commission would seek redress at the European Court of Justice.
According to Šefčovič, one proceeding is “for failing to carry out the necessary controls at the border control posts in Northern Ireland by ensuring adequate staffing and infrastructure,” while the other one is “for failing to provide the EU with essential trade statistics data to enable the EU to protect its single market.”
Johnson previously stated his government would still prefer to reach a negotiated agreement with Brussels, but claimed the new law was being proposed because the EU was “failing to engage on its concerns about measures to control goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.”