EU starts legal action against UK over plan to break Brexit deal

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Pound drops against the dollar after EU announcement

The European Union has started legal action against the UK over Boris Johnson’s plan to breach parts of its Brexit divorce deal.

The UK government has previously admitted that breaching parts of the deal would break international law.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said they had sent “a letter of formal notice to the UK government”.

She said: “We had invited our British friends to remove the problematic parts of their draft internal market bill by the end of September.

“This draft bill is, by its very nature, a breach of the obligation of good faith laid down in the withdrawal agreement.

“Moreover, if adopted as is it will be in full contradiction of the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.”

She added: “The deadline lapsed yesterday; the problematic provisions have not been removed.

“Therefore, this morning the commission have decided to send a letter of formal notice to the UK government. This is the first step in an infringement procedure.”

Responding to the EU’s plan to take legal action, Downing Street said the UK had “clearly set out reasons” to make changes to the Brexit treaty.

A spokesman said: “We need to create a legal safety net to protect the integrity of the UK’s internal market, ensure ministers can always deliver on their obligations to Northern Ireland and protect the gains from the peace process.”

The pound dropped by 0.7 per cent against the dollar on the news.

The EU had given London until yesterday to withdraw the bill but instead the House of Commons voted 340-256 on Tuesday to push the legislation past its last major hurdle.

It must also be approved by the House of Lords, where it is sure to meet strong opposition because it falls foul of international law.

The EU action underscored worsening relations with Britain, which left the bloc on January 31.

Talks between the two sides are continuing in Brussels as they try to strike a free trade deal.

Time is short for the UK and EU to bridge the divide – the transition period that followed Britain’s exit ends in less than 100 days on December 31.

The EU-UK trade negotiating session is supposed to wrap up Friday but expectations are that negotiations will continue right up to an October 15-16 EU summit, which Mr Johnson has set as a deadline for a deal.

Two major sticking points to a deal
Speaking in the House of Commons today, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said the UK had clear red lines that it would not cross in talks with the EU.

He said: “Progress has been made in a huge number of areas, but … there is still one or two sticking points on state aid, the level playing field and fisheries.

“But I think with goodwill on both sides, we can achieve resolution, and I certainly know that this government is determined to do. But of course, we have clear red lines that we will not cross.”

The UK Internal Market Bill now further complicates issues. If it becomes law, it will give the UK the power to disregard part of the Brexit withdrawal treaty dealing with trade to and from Northern Ireland, which shares a 300-mile border with Ireland.

EU leaders fear that could lead to the re-imposition of a hard land border and erode the stability that has underpinned peace since Northern Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday accord. This concern was articulated by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in a tweet on Thursday morning.

However, the UK government says it respects the peace accord and the Brexit withdrawal agreement, but wants the law as a “safety net” in case the EU makes unreasonable demands after Brexit that could impede trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Mr Johnson’s large parliamentary majority ensured the bill passed its final House of Commons vote on Tuesday night, despite resistance from opposition parties and even some members of his own party.

Britain says it wants a free trade deal along the lines of the one the EU has with Canada, allowing for goods to be traded with no tariffs or quotas.

The EU says if the UK wants access to EU markets it must respect standards that EU companies have to live by since Britain is just too close to allow for undercutting rules that would allow for so-called “dumping” of UK merchandise at prices lower than in the EU.

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