The European Commission has called on Britain to drop parts of planned legislation that would override London’s EU withdrawal agreement and raised the prospect of legal retaliation as optimism for a future trade deal fades.
During talks in London, EC Vice President Maros Sefcovic urged the British government to “withdraw these measures from the draft bill in the shortest time possible and in any case by the end of the month,” the commission said in a statement.
The European Union “will not be shy” in using legal mechanisms at its disposal to retaliate to violations of the agreement, the EU’s executive arm said.
With the “internal market bill,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to override a provision in the agreement that would impose different post-Brexit customs rules on Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.
This part of the deal with Brussels is deemed crucial to avert a hard border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and EU-member Ireland.
According to a leaked commission document seen by the DPA news agency, the commission could even bring infringement proceedings during the post-Brexit transition period until the end of the year if the bill is passed as planned.
While it is unlikely the case would make it to court within that timeframe, the document outlines this could be done retroactively and ultimately lead to a fine.
Sefcovic told British cabinet chief Michael Gove that “by putting forward this bill, the UK has seriously damaged trust between the EU and the UK,” the commission statement added.
The announcement has jeopardised the ongoing future relationship negotiations, the commission statement continued.
These include plans for a massive trade deal between the two partners.
Johnson remained defiant on Thursday despite strong criticism of the plan by EU leaders, British opposition MPs and two former prime ministers from his Conservative party.
London did not put out a statement immediately after the talks with EU officials.
“I think the important thing to stress about the UK Internal Market Bill is that it is primarily an economic measure,” Gove told a committee of MPs.
Gove said businesses had told the government they needed “certainty at the end of the (Brexit) transition period on how the UK internal market will operate.”
Britain formally left the EU in January and entered a transition period until the end of the year, during which it still belongs to the EU single market and customs union.