EU ‘will restart legal action’ against UK over Northern Ireland Protocol
( Telegraph )
The European Union will launch three separate lawsuits against Britain after the Government published plans to override the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Maros Sefcovic, a European Commission vice-president, told colleagues his officials are working on a number of potential retaliatory measures, including drawing up a list of British goods Brussels could hit with crippling trade tariffs.
The EU could also move to end financial equivalence for the City of London to European markets, or officially end Britain’s accession to the Horizon research programme, sources claimed.
The Government said it was forced to act after the EU introduced some 4,000 new laws that could impact the Protocol since its introduction in January 2021, as well as refusing to revise the original pact.
The DUP warned on Monday it was under “no pressure” to restore Stormont power-sharing, but its leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, said the legislation was an important step to smoothing out tensions over the Protocol.
Hardline Conservative MPs welcomed the Government’s move amid fears the current arrangements for Northern Ireland could ultimately lead to the UK being broken up.
In the face of a potential trade war, Boris Johnson warned EU leaders that it would be “preposterous” to launch such a draconian attack in response to the legislation.
The Prime Minister said any retaliation that involves tariffs on UK goods would be a “gross, gross overreaction” and insisted the new law is needed to save the peace process.
The legislation introduced by the UK Government will scrap most checks on goods crossing between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as well as remove the role of the European Court of Justice in overseeing the measure and give ministers powers to alter VAT rates in the province.
In response to accusations it breaches EU law, government lawyers claimed the changes were legal under the doctrine of “necessity” because the Brexit deal agreed in 2019 represents a “grave and imminent” threat to peace and stability in Northern Ireland.
Downing Street’s legislation is set to spark further tensions within the Conservative party as it leaves open the possibility of being watered down if a deal is reached between the EU and UK over the current Protocol.
Washington warns Britain
Washington also warned Britain against breaching international law as a senior US congressman called for Western governments to remain united against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
European sources told The Telegraph on Monday that Mr Sefcovic will restart a frozen legal spat, as well as launch two new infringement cases against Britain, in response to the bill.
The existing legal complaint was opened in March last year when former Brexit minister Lord Frost unilaterally extended grace periods on a number of checks on goods crossing between Britain and Northern Ireland.
The two new complaints will focus on fresh breaches of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, a source said, in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.
Mr Sefcovic, the EU’s Brexit chief, said: “As a first step, the commission will consider continuing the infringement procedure launched against the UK Government in March 2021.”
The top eurocrat also insisted the EU would renegotiate the text of the Protocol in order to address Northern Irish and British concerns.
A senior government source told The Telegraph this position “proves a point about EU inflexibility”.
In a call with Ms Truss, Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, urged Britain to continue with “good faith” to protect the Good Friday peace agreement.
And Brendan Boyle, US congressman, accused Britain of breaching international law: “With war raging on European soil this is a time in which the Western allies must stand completely united.”
US-UK trade talks set to continue
The White House said prospects for a potential future US-UK trade deal would not be impacted by the Northern Ireland Protocol development.
Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said: "No, I don't believe it will be."
Trade talks later this month between the US and UK in Boston would also not be affected. She said the US recognised there had been "challenges" with the Northern Ireland Protocol.
She added: "We have welcomed the provisions in the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, and the Northern Ireland Protocol as a way to manage the practical challenges of preserving distinct EU and UK markets, while preventing the return of Customs infrastructure on the land border.
"We recognise there have been challenges over the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
"We urge the UK and EU to return to talks to resolve these differences. We support a strong and close EU-UK partnership.
"Transatlantic peace, security and prosperity are best served by a strong UK and strong EU and the closest possible partnership between the two."
US and UK trade officials are due to meet in Boston on June 22.