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EU launches legal action against UK over Brexit protocol

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EU launches legal action against UK over Brexit protocol

UK - EU - Image © jonybigude - Fotolia

(BRUSSELS) - The EU Commission sent the UK a letter of formal notice Monday for breaching provisions of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, as well as the good faith obligation under the Withdrawal Agreement.

The move marks the beginning of a formal infringement process against the United Kingdom. It is the second time in the space of six months that the UK government is set to breach international law.

The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland was decided by the EU and the UK as the only way to protect the Good Friday agreement and to preserve peace and stability, while at the same time avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and maintaining the integrity of the EU single market.

"The EU and the UK agreed the Protocol together. We are also bound to implement it together," said EC vice-president Maros Sefcovic: "Unilateral decisions and international law violations by the UK defeat its very purpose and undermine trust between us." He added that he hoped the issue could be solved "without recourse to further legal means".

The Commission is responding to this situation in the following two ways:

  • First, the Commission has sent the UK a Letter Formal Notice for breaches of substantive provisions of EU law concerning the movement of goods and pet travel made applicable by virtue of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. This marks the beginning of a formal infringement process, as set out in Article 12(4) of the Protocol, in conjunction with Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Under Article 12(4) of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, the EU institutions and particularly, the European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union have supervisory and enforcement powers as per the EU Treaties in relation to specific provisions of the Protocol, including Article 5. The letter requests the UK to carry out swift remedial actions to restore compliance with the terms of the Protocol. The UK has one month to reply to the letter.
  • Secondly, Vice-President Maros Sefcovic has sent a political letter to David Frost, the UK's co-chair of the Joint Committee, calling on the UK government to rectify and refrain from putting into practice the statements and guidance published on 3 March and 4 March 2021. These unilateral measures are a violation of the duty of good faith under Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement. The letter also calls on the UK to enter into bilateral consultations in the Joint Committee in good faith, with the aim of reaching a mutually agreed solution by the end of this month.

The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, as an integral part of the Withdrawal Agreement, was ratified by both the EU and the UK, has been in force since 1 February 2020 and has legal effects under international law. The aim of the Protocol is to maintain peace and stability, protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement, avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and preserve the integrity of the EU single market. In order for these objectives to be achieved, the Protocol must be implemented in full. The UK government's failure to do so jeopardises the attainment of these objectives.

The UK has been given one month to submit its observations to the letter of formal notice.

Letter from Vice-President Maros Sefcovic to David Frost (15 March 2021)


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