The British government decided to extend the time period which gives Northern Ireland time to adapt to post-Brexit rules without the agreement of the European Union (EU). In response the EU is prepared to launch a two-pronged legal assault on the United Kingdom (UK).
It has been reported that it is likely the EU will initiate a formal “infringement proceeding” that may end up at the European Court of Justice and commence the dispute mechanism in the Brexit withdrawal agreement. The EU27 ambassadors were briefed on Tuesday (9th March). Maros Sefcovic, the European commission vice-president told the ambassadors that plans were being worked out. It was reported that there was full agreement at the meeting that the EU “had to act firmly”. Action could begin very soon.
The Northern Ireland Protocol which was part of the withdrawal agreement requires checks on goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland to ensure the comply with the EU rules. This is because Northern Ireland is meant to continue complying with the single market rules in order to prevent border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Some border checks have already disrupted supply chains which has led to protests from unionist parties. The first grace period is meant to expire at the end of March which will create further disruptions.
Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary stated last week that the UK would unilaterally extend the grace periods. He argued that the government had to act to protect the interests of Northern Ireland and keep the shelves stocked.
Maros Sefcovic subsequently accused the UK of breaching the withdrawal agreement and international law, as well as a “clear departure” from constructive cooperation.
The UK has denied breaching international law and that it informed the EU at an “officials’ level” regarding the extension. A UK government spokesman said, “these measures are lawful and consistent with a progressive and good faith implementation of the protocol”.