Brexit: Senior MEPs throw weight behind Commission’s infringement proceedings against UK

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen threw down the gauntlet on Thursday morning after weeks of jaw-dropping moves by the UK, and MEPs had her back.
Anti-Brexit demonstration

By Lorna Hutchinson and Martin Banks

Lorna Hutchinson is Deputy Editor of The Parliament Magazine and Martin Banks is a Senior Reporter at The Parliament Magazine

01 Oct 2020

MEPs across the political spectrum have rallied in support of the European Commission’s decision to launch an infringement procedure against the UK over breaching the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement through its contentious Internal Market Bill.

On Thursday, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that in the wake of the UK’s refusal to withdraw the contentious parts of the Bill, despite requests by the European Union, the Commission has sent the UK a letter of formal notice for breaching its obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement.

This marks the beginning of a formal infringement process and the UK has one month to reply to today's letter.

After the announcement, the EPP, Parliament’s largest political group, said in a statement, “We welcome the European Commission’s decision to launch a legal action against the UK over the Internal Market Bill.”

“We stand by our commitments and don’t see why the UK can’t do the same. And a message to Boris Johnson: provocation is not a good method of negotiation.”

“The Internal Market Bill swings like the sword of Damocles. The European Parliament will not agree to any kind of agreement as long as the Internal Market Bill is in the room” Bernd Lange, S&D MEP and UKCG member

Renew Europe leader Dacian Cioloș said that breaking International law must have consequences, adding, “I welcome the steps taken by Ursula von der Leyen, but saddened it has come to this.”

“The UK has diminished trust, which must now be restored and remedied if the European Parliament is to sign off on any future relationship.”

The S&D Group said, “The Commission is absolutely right to take legal action against the UK. No ifs or buts, the Withdrawal Agreement must be respected.”

It added, “We fully support any appropriate legal steps to make sure the UK government complies with an agreement it signed just months ago. The UK has diminished trust, which must now be restored and remedied if the European Parliament is to sign off on any future relationship.”

Members of Parliament’s UK Coordination Group (UKCG) also weighed in, with chair, German EPP deputy David McAllister saying, “The European Commission is consistently pursuing its position. The full implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement is, and remains, essential for our future partnership.”

“The UK has diminished trust, which must now be restored and remedied if the European Parliament is to sign off on any future relationship” Dacian Cioloș, Renew Europe leader

Fellow UKCG members Bernd Lange, Nathalie Loiseau and Kris Peeters also gave their takes on the infringement proceedings.

Lange said, “This is right and important and consistent if the EU wants to remain credible. It's about our values. An agreement is an agreement. Period! Anything else would have been a devastating signal. Not our style Boris Johnson.”

He continued, “We will nonetheless continue to negotiate the future agreement in a factual and constructive manner, but one thing is clear: the [UK’s] Internal Market Bill swings like the sword of Damocles. The European Parliament will not agree to any kind of agreement as long as the Internal Market Bill is in the room.”

French Renew Europe deputy Nathalie Loiseau said unequivocally, “Breaking International law has consequences. If the UK Government thought that breaching the Withdrawal Agreement, which the European Parliament agreed in good faith, would provide leverage in our talks, then it was misguided.”

“A remedy is needed before any future relationship can be agreed.”

“We stand by our commitments and don’t see why the UK can’t do the same. And a message to Boris Johnson: provocation is not a good method of negotiation” EPP Group

Belgian EPP member Kris Peeters said, “Correct implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement is an absolute precondition for any new trade agreement. If necessary, enforce it legally!”

Another UKCG member, GUE/NGL co-president Martin Schirdewan said, “By its actions the British government seems to be intent on damaging the EU. It seems that they are not serious about a trade agreement, knowing as they do, that the European Parliament will not ratify any agreement while the offensive provisions of the Internal Market Bill are still on the table.”

“Pending the outcome of the legislative process in Westminster and the legal proceedings, the British government should now stop playing games, listen to the majority in the North of Ireland, and implement in full the provisions of the Irish Protocol.”

Greens/EFA Vice-Chair Terry Reintke pointed out that with the announcement of legal steps against the UK, the Commission made no mention of the ongoing negotiations, which are currently in their ninth round in Brussels this week.

She added, “As a Member of a Parliament that would have to consent to any future deal, I can only say: If the UK already plans to break the just agreed deal, how can we have trust when ratifying another?”

Meanwhile, Denis MacShane, a former UK Europe Minister, said, “This was inevitable once Tory MPs voted for an Act of Parliament which proclaimed the UK was ready to break international law by repudiating clauses in the legally-binding treaty Boris Johnson agreed to put into effect the Withdrawal Agreement and Northern Ireland protocol.”

“The Commission had no choice as the UK is now giving itself legal authority to ignore what it has solemnly agreed to.”

Former UK Liberal MEP Sir Graham Watson said, “The UK is fast becoming a pariah state, like Poland, or a headache like Hungary, but without the protection of the European People’s Party.”

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