The European Commission has launched legal action against the UK, after MPs passed the Internal Market Bill, which overrides parts of the withdrawal agreement. The EU had set Britain an end of month deadline to withdraw clauses in the Bill, which it said broke international law. On Monday, the Commission said it would “not be shy” in taking “legal remedies” unless the UK backed down over the provisions on state aid and export declarations on goods from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland.
Downing Street refused the same day and the Bill was passed on Tuesday night by 340 votes to 256. It will now go to the House of Lords.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said: “We had invited our British friends to remove the problematic parts of their draft Internal Market Bill, by the end of September.
“This draft bill is by its very nature, a breach of the obligation of good faith, laid down in the withdrawal agreement. Moreover, if adopted as is it will be in full contradiction to the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“The deadline lapsed [on Wednesday]. The problematic provisions have not been removed. Therefore [on Thursday morning], the Commission has decided to send a letter of formal notice to the UK Government. This is the first step in an infringement procedure.”
While the news has sparked uproar in Britain, this is not the first time the EU has taken such a drastic action.
In November 2019, the European Commission brought legal action against Britain for breaking its EU treaty obligations.
Despite knowing for weeks that the UK would remain in the EU beyond October 31, when a new EU executive had been due to be in place, Downing Street failed to put someone forward to join the bloc’s 28-strong top team of commissioners.
Mr Johnson claimed in a letter that he had been unable to make an international appointment due to purdah rules ahead of the general election on December 12.
However, a spokeswoman for the European Commission said the UK had breached its legal obligations despite the Prime Minister’s repeated claims in public that he would not defy the law.
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The spokesman said: “Following the UK’s reply on 13 November to the two letters sent by President-elect Ursula von der Leyen recalling the UK’s obligations under the EU Treaty – and the European Council decision of 29 October 2019 extending the Article 50 period (1) – the Commission has now analysed this reply and considers that the UK is in breach of its EU Treaty obligations.
“In its letter, the UK authorities consider that they are not in a position to suggest a candidate for the post of EU Commissioner in view of the upcoming general election.
“The European Commission recalls that, in accordance with established EU case-law (2), a Member State may not invoke provisions prevailing in its domestic legal system to justify failure to observe obligations arising under Union law.”
The move could have ultimately seen the Government dragged to answer for itself at the European Court of Justice, where judges have the power to issue large fines on member states that fail to live up to EU law.
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The Commission spokeswoman said the UK had until November 22 “at the latest to provide their views” on its formal infringement notice.
However, in the end, the EU decided not to escalate its infringement action and the European Council approved a membership list that did not include a UK nominee.
Less than a month later, Mr Johnson delivered the Conservatives’ best general election result since 1987.
He secured the Brexit mandate he needed and on January 31, Britain left the European Union.