EU officials say Brussels will launch legal action against the UK as early as Monday, over the publication of draft legislation that would break large parts of the 2020 Brexit deal, EU officials say know, as the two sides move closer to a possible trade war.
Officials say the European Commission will respond immediately to the UK bill on rewrite the so-called Northern Ireland protocolby restarting a legal process was frozen last year to allow negotiations and possibly initiate a second case.
The UK bill coming into force would end the oversight role of the European Court of Justice as well as EU control over state aid and value-added taxes in the region.
The law will also break Brexit treaty by exempting goods from the UK from having to undergo border checks if they stay in Northern Ireland, and giving ministers sweeping powers to change almost every aspect of the text.
EU officials say Britain has failed to implement large parts of the deal agreed to by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Any case can end up in the ECJ, which can impose fines for non-compliance.
If Britain refuses to pay and abides by its ruling, the EU could end parts of the post-Brexit trade deal that impose tariffs on British goods.
Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, said in an interview the legal action is “proportionate” but warns of a trade war. “What’s happening here is serious, but there’s a big difference between the proposed law and the actual law that’s being enacted and then it’s actually being used.”
He denounced the UK’s move as “anti-democratic” as a majority of voters in Northern Ireland support pro-protocol parties.
Fifty-two of the 90 elected members of the Northern Ireland Assembly wrote to Johnson on Monday to “refute in the strongest possible terms your government’s reckless new protocol law”, alleging he is seeking to “destabilize our region”.
The bill is also likely to anger the US, while ministers conceded the bill could be blocked by the House of Representatives for months.
Johnson denies the law violates international law, arguing that the 1998 Good Friday Agreement needs to be protected, which brought peace to Northern Ireland after three decades of conflict.
“Our previous and higher legal commitment to the country is to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the balance and stability of that agreement,” he told LBC Radio on Monday.
The Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s largest trade union party, has refused to reinstate a power-sharing agreement in the region after the nationalist Sinn Féin party became the biggest party in May’s election.
“A community at the moment feels very alienated from the way things are, very alienated and we just need to fix that, it’s relatively simple to do that,” Johnson said. “It’s a bureaucratic change that needs to be made, frankly it’s a series of relatively small tweaks in the grand scheme of things.”
But Sammy Wilson, a veteran DUP MP, said House approval of the new legislation would not be enough for his party to return to regional government, labeling any attempt to push it as do. so before the bill is moved to the House of Commons. Lords as “stupid” blackmail. He added that the DUP needs to see the law “in its final form. . . before we can support it”.
Johnson also said a trade war between the UK and the EU would be a “brutal, overreaction”. “All we’re trying to do is simplify things, try to remove barriers to trade for the UK and Northern Ireland,” he added.
Under current Brexit arrangements, new checks are needed on goods traveling from the UK into the area, which is still part of the EU’s single market for goods.
But under the new law, goods destined for Northern Ireland will pass through the “green lane” without inspection, while goods crossing the open border into the Republic of Ireland will be subject to a “red lane” check.
The bill would also create a dual regulatory regime, allowing UK-origin goods to circulate in the region provided they meet UK standards, not those of the EU.
In response to the legislation, Maroš Šefčovič, the European commissioner for Brexit, is expected on Monday afternoon to ask the commission to move the paused legal case – on the UK’s unilateral decision to delay the review. Cargo and pet inspection – for ECJ.
The second case, on the new bill itself, would begin with a letter addressed to London. Both will probably take more than a year to finish.