EU takes legal action against UK over planned Brexit bill
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union took legal action against Britain on Thursday over its plans to pass legislation that would breach parts of the legally binding divorce agreement the two sides reached late last year.
The EU move underscored the worsening relations with Britain, which was a member of the bloc until January 31. Both sides are trying to forge a rudimentary free trade agreement before the end of the year, but the fight over the controversial U.K. Internal Market bill has soured relations this month.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the British plan “by its very nature is a breach of the obligation of good faith laid down in the Withdrawal Agreement.”
“If adopted as is, it will be in full contradiction to the protocol of Ireland-Northern Ireland” in the withdrawal agreement,” she said.
EU leaders fear that if the UK bill becomes law, it could lead to the reimposition of a hard land border between Northern Ireland, which is part of Britain, and EU member Ireland, and erode the stability that has underpinned peace since the 1998 Good Friday accord.
The EU had given London until Wednesday to withdraw the bill, but UK lawmakers voted 340-256 Tuesday to push the legislation past its last major hurdle in the House of Commons.
Von der Leyen said “the deadline lapsed yesterday. The problematic provisions haven’t been removed. Therefore this morning, the commission has decided to send a letter of formal notice to the U.K. government,” which augurs the start of a protracted legal battle.
“The commission will continue to work hard towards a full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement,” she said.
“We stand by our commitment.”
The bill must also be approved by the UK’s House of Lords, where it is sure to meet strong opposition because it breaches international law.
Helena Kennedy, an opposition Labour Party member of the House of Lords, said the bill was “a flagrant breach of international law,” and Parliament’s upper chamber would try to stop it.
“People come to the courts in the United Kingdom because our judiciary is respected. Our respect for the law is one of our badges — a badge of honour,” she told the BBC. “Well it’s gone down.”
The British government stood its ground in an immediate reaction to the EU move, saying “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.”
If the Internal Market Bill becomes law, it will give Britain the power to disregard part of the Brexit withdrawal treaty dealing with trade to and from Northern Ireland, which shares a 300-mile (500-kilometre) border with the Republic of Ireland.
The UK government says it respects the Good Friday peace accord and the Brexit withdrawal agreement, but wants the law in case the EU makes unreasonable demands after Brexit that could impede trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
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