The European Commission has issued legal proceedings against Britain after Boris Johnson’s government published plans to override elements of the Northern Ireland protocol which has greatly angered Irish and EU officials.
London has proposed scrapping some checks on goods from the rest of the United Kingdom into the North and challenged the role of the ECJ to decide on parts of the post-Brexit arrangement agreed by the EU and Britain.
European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefcovic, who oversees EU relations with former member Britain, said unilaterally changing an international agreement is clearly breaking the law.
“Let’s call a spade a spade. This is illegal,” he told a news conference, adding it casts a further shadow on international relations amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The EC charges Britain with failing to ensure adequate staff and infrastructure to carry out checks in Northern Ireland and not providing the EU with sufficient trade data.
Šefcovic said Brussels still wants to resume talks with Britain to resolve difficulties in shipping British products to Northern Ireland.
“We decided that our response should be measured, should be proportionate. And we are offering not only legal action here today but we’ve been fleshing out what concretely we could do,” he said.
Boris Johnston said the legislation was a framework and that the legislation provided an opportunity to move into negotiation phase.
“We spent a lot of time examining the European Commission’s proposals from last October, talking to them about it, hundreds of hours of discussion and we acknowledge that they were an important effort by the commission to address some of the issues that had arisen, but when we analysed them in more detail we saw that they were really an effort to mitigate the situation that we would be in if we had full implementation of the protocol which no one is really talking about any more,” he said.
“So though they would involve a reduction in the checks and the bureaucracy — that theoretical situation high point which we’ve never been at, they would actually leave us in many respects worse off than we are today with the grace periods and they wouldn’t address some of the other issues.”
The Prime Minister said the British government was clear that the legislation being brought forward was lawful in terms of international law obligations related to the “overriding priority for us of preserving and protecting the Good Friday Agreement in all its elements”.
“We acknowledge obviously that there is a lot of debate around the proposals, and we’re talking to our partners, to the Taoiseach, many senior officials only yesterday, and we’re very keen to continue that dialogue.”