Brussels has begun legal proceedings against the UK after Boris Johnson’s government refused to withdraw plans to override key elements of the Brexit divorce deal.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said a “letter of formal notification” would be sent to the UK after ministers rejected a demand to withdraw the provisions from the UK Internal Market Bill by Wednesday of this week.
The government has argued the Bill – which gives ministers the power override provisions in the withdrawal agreement relating to Northern Ireland – is necessary to protect the peace process if there is no agreement on a post-Brexit free trade agreement.
But von der Leyen said the legislation, which cleared its final Commons hurdle earlier this week, is “by its very nature” a breach of the UK’s international obligations.
She said the commission, the executive branch of the EU, has issued a formal legal notice to UK ministers, starting a process which could end up with proceedings at the European Court of Justice.
In a media statement at the commission headquarters in Brussels, she said the commission’s move marked the first step in an “infringement procedure” with the UK Government now invited to send its observations within the month.
Von der Leyen said: “This draft Bill is by its very nature a breach of the obligation of good faith laid down in the withdrawal agreement.
“The deadline lapsed yesterday, the problematic provisions have not been removed, therefore the commission has decided this morning to send a letter of formal notice to the UK Government.”
A UK Government spokesman said they would respond to the letter “in due course”.
The draft Bill, which seeks to replace the EU common market with a UK-wide internal market, infuriated Brussels.
The EU accused the UK of violating its treaty obligations after ministers admitted the legislation would breach international law.
Meanwhile, talks to strike a post-Brexit trade deal between the two sides remain ongoing.
A UK Government spokesman said: “We have clearly set out our reasons for introducing the measures related to the Northern Ireland protocol.
“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.”