Commission launches infringement proceedings against UK over controversial Internal Market Bill

The Bill has sparked outrage as it overrides the Withdrawal Agreement, the deal painstakingly thrashed out by the two sides over the last two years.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

01 Oct 2020

In a move that will further intensify tensions between the two sides, the European Commission announced on Thursday that it has now sent a letter of formal notice to the UK for “breaching its obligations” under the Withdrawal Agreement.

This marks the beginning of a formal infringement process against the UK. This is the first stage in the process the Commission uses against countries it believes have broken EU law and lead to governments being taken to the European Court of Justice.

In a short statement on Thursday, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the Bill was a “full contradiction” of previous UK commitments over how a hard border on the island of Ireland should be avoided.

She said, “We had invited our UK friends to remove the problematic parts of the Bill which, by its very nature, breaks the obligations of good faith in the WD. If adopted it will be in full contravention of the Protocol.”

“The deadline lapsed yesterday and the problematic provisions have not been removed. So, we have sent this letter, the first step in the infringement process. We have invited the UK to send its observations and we will continue to work hard towards a full and timely implementation of the WD.”

She added, “We stand by our commitments.”

“We had invited our UK friends to remove the problematic parts of the Bill which, by its very nature, breaks the obligations of good faith in the WD. If adopted it will be in full contravention of the Protocol” Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President

A Commission spokesman said, “On 9 September 2020, the UK government tabled the Internal Market Bill that, if adopted, would flagrantly violate the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland, as it would allow the UK authorities to disregard the legal effect of the Protocol’s substantive provisions under the Withdrawal Agreement.”

“Despite requests by the EU, the UK government has failed to withdraw the contentious parts of the Bill. The UK now has until the end of this month to submit its observations to the letter.”

“After examining these observations, or if no observations have been submitted, the Commission may, if appropriate, decide to issue a Reasoned Opinion.”

The move comes after Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič travelled to London on 10 September for an emergency meeting with Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Šefčovič later stated that if the Bill were to be adopted, it would constitute “an extremely serious violation” of the Withdrawal Agreement and international law and called on the UK government to withdraw these measures by the end of September.

“The Internal Market Bill is a breach of international law. It is indefensible and puts at risk the Good Friday Agreement. The EU had absolutely no choice but to initiate infringement proceedings” Barry Andrews MEP

A UK government said the Bill was a necessary “safety net” to protect trade between different parts of the UK.

On Thursday, German EPP member David McAllister, who chairs Parliament’s UK Coordination Group, told this website, “The Withdrawal Agreement is a key pillar for the future relationship with the United Kingdom. Its full implementation remains a priority for the EU.”

Irish MEP Barry Andrews was also quick to respond, telling this site, “A minister of the UK government told the House of Commons that the Internal Market Bill is a breach of international law. It is indefensible and puts at risk the Good Friday Agreement. The EU had absolutely no choice but to initiate infringement proceedings.”

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