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EU begins legal action against UK for breaching legal obligations

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EU begins legal action against UK for breaching legal obligations

Ursula von der Leyen - Photo EC

(BRUSSELS) - Following Britain's refusal to remove parts of its draft Internal Market Bill by end September, the Commission began legal action Thursday for the UK's breach of obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement.

The move marks the beginning of a formal infringement process against the United Kingdom, with the country having one month to reply to today's letter.

The Withdrawal Agreement, which has been ratified by both the EU and the UK, entered into force on 1 February with legal effects under international law.

Under its Article 5, the EU and the UK were committed to 'take all appropriate measures to ensure the fulfilment of the obligations arising from the Withdrawal Agreement'. They were also obligated to 'refrain from any measures which could jeopardise the attainment of those objectives'. Both parties were therefore bound by the obligation to cooperate in good faith in carrying out the tasks stemming from the Withdrawal Agreement.

However, the UK government's tabling on 9 September of a Bill ('United Kingdom Internal Market Bill') would, if adopted, be in flagrant violation of the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland, according to the EU executive, 'as it would allow the UK authorities to disregard the legal effect of the Protocol's substantive provisions under the Withdrawal Agreement'.

British government representatives have themselves acknowledged this violation, stating that its purpose was to allow it to depart in a permanent way from the obligations stemming from the Protocol.

Despite EU requests, the UK government has failed to withdraw the contentious parts of the Bill.

In a statement, Commission president Ursula President von der Leyen said: "This draft Bill is - by its very nature - a breach of the obligation of good faith laid down in the Withdrawal Agreement." She added that "if adopted as is, it will be in full contradiction to the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland."

If the Bill is adopted, the Commission says the process would impede the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. As a result, the Commission launched infringement proceedings in line with the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement.

The letter invites the UK government to send its observations within a month. The Commission adds that it will continue to work hard towards 'a full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement'.

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