EU says it will start legal action over Bexit deal

The EU Commission is to start legal action against Boris Johnson’s bid to potentially override parts of the Brexit deal.

Brussels claims the prime minister is breaching the “good faith” promise both sides signed up to in the withdrawal agreement struck and passed by parliament last year.

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said given Mr Johnson has “failed” to heed her warning, “infringement proceedings” are being launched.

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen

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 in recent days that a deal could be done in the coming weeks after months of deadlock.

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.

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.

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