EU: UK must withdraw Brexit bill or face legal action

The European Commission said Britain had 'seriously damaged trust' with Brussels with its Internal Market Bill.

EU: UK must withdraw  Brexit bill or face legal action Getty Images
EU: Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic in London.

The EU has threatened legal action against the UK if ministers do not withdraw measures that override Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal from new legislation by the end of the month.

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said Britain had “seriously damaged trust” with Brussels with its new Internal Market Bill, published on Wednesday.

One Cabinet minister has already admitted before MPs that the legislation “breaks international law” in the way it affects the Northern Ireland protocol enshrined within the withdrawal treaty.

Boris Johnson signed the deal with Brussels last year and campaigned on it as an “oven-ready” deal during December’s general election.

But this week, Downing Street said the withdrawal agreement had been drawn up “at pace” and suffered from a “lack of clarity” around Northern Ireland, which UK ministers say the new legislation is designed to clear up.

The Northern Ireland protocol is designed to maintain an open border with the Republic by keeping Belfast aligned with EU customs ruled – amid fears border checks could spark paramilitary violence.

The EU does not accept new British legislation is needed to protect the Northern Irish peace process, Sefcovic told Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove at an emergency meeting in London on Thursday.

And he warned that Brussels fears the UK Bill “does the opposite” in a statement released after the UK-EU joint committee meeting.

He said “in no uncertain terms” that the “timely and full implementation” of the divorce deal is “a legal obligation”, according to the statement.

It warned that adopting the Bill would constitute “an extremely serious violation” of both the divorce deal and international law and Brussels would “not be shy” in deploying legal remedies.

It added: “Violating the terms of the withdrawal agreement would break international law, undermine trust and put at risk the ongoing future relationship negotiations.

He called on Johnson’s government to remove measures relating to state aid and the withdrawal agreement from the draft Bill “in the shortest time possible and in any case by the end of the month”.

Sefcovic stated that by putting forward this Bill, the UK has seriously damaged trust between the EU and the UK.

He concluded: “It is now up to the UK Government to re-establish that trust.”