The European Commission has warned it will take “proportionate action” to ensure the legal implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol after the UK government published legislation that will override the mechanism.
Committee vice-president Maros Sefcovic said the EU viewed the UK’s actions with “great concern” and would consider next steps.
He said that would start with the resumption of legal proceedings against the UK, which he suspended in September, for breaching the 2020 withdrawal treaty.
As well as reviving infringement proceedings against the UK, he said the EU would also consider launching further legal action to protect the integrity of the EU’s single market, as he ruled out renegotiating trade protocol.
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“Unilateral action undermines mutual trust,” Sefcovic said.
“Our aim will always be to ensure the protocol is implemented. Our reaction to unilateral action by the UK will reflect that aim and be proportionate.”
Meanwhile, Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein’s deputy chair, said Boris Johnson’s attempts to override parts of the protocol were ‘unlawful’, adding the Prime Minister was ‘in clear breach of international law “.
Ministers said all parts of Northern Ireland recognize there are problems with the protocol, which is designed to prevent a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, but effectively creates a border in the Irish Sea with goods imported from Great Britain subject to customs controls.
The bill will allow ministers to establish a ‘green lane’ so trusted traders will be allowed to move goods from Britain to Northern Ireland unchecked, as long as the goods remain in the UK.
Goods supplied by companies not part of the Trusted Traders scheme, or products destined for Ireland and the EU, would go through a red lane and be subject to checks.
Products placed on the market in Northern Ireland would be allowed to follow UK or EU regulations, rather than having to comply with Brussels rules.
A spokesman for Irish Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney added that the bill ‘marks a particular low point in the UK’s approach to Brexit’ and said the plan would ‘raise’ tensions and breach the UK’s international commitments.
Elsewhere, a majority of Stormont Assembly MPs signed a joint letter to Mr Johnson stating their opposition to the bill to amend the Northern Ireland protocol.
But the UK government has insisted that the legislation, which will change the part of the post-Brexit deal linked to the protocol Britain has agreed with the EU, does not violate international law.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the UK government is “acting in accordance with international law” with the new legislation.
“We’re changing the protocol, we’re not getting rid of the protocol. I think it’s important to recognize that,” Ms Truss told broadcasters.
“We must take action to protect people across the UK, we must take action to protect peace and stability in Northern Ireland – and that is exactly what we are doing.”
The foreign secretary also disputed that the legislation could not be triggered and be used for negotiation purposes, adding: “We are completely serious about this legislation.”
Earlier, the Prime Minister insisted the legislation would introduce “relatively simple” changes and said it would be an “overreaction” by the EU if it sought to retaliate by starting a trade war.
The modifications will be debated and voted on by the deputies.
The DUP refused to support power sharing until the issues were resolved.
Party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, speaking after the bill was published, said: ‘The DUP will judge what constitutes decisive action as we see this bill move forward.’
The new bill creates a framework for Westminster ministers to introduce changes in four areas covering customs and agri-food safety checks, regulation, subsidy checks and the role of the European Court of Justice.
In a legal guidance document, released alongside the bill, the government says the move is justified under international law because of the “truly exceptional situation”.
The legal position argues that this decision is necessary because the protocol currently does not protect commitments to the Good Friday Agreement.
“The government recognizes that necessity can only be invoked exceptionally to legally justify non-compliance with international obligations,” it read.
“This is a truly exceptional situation and it is only in the difficult, complex and unique circumstances of Northern Ireland that the government has reluctantly decided to introduce legislation which, to their entry into force, provide for non-compliance with certain obligations.
“The position of the government is that in light of the state of necessity, such non-performance of its obligations contained in the withdrawal agreement and/or the protocol following the planned legislative measures would be justified under international law. .
“This justification lasts as long as the underlying reasons for the state of necessity are present. The current assessment is that this situation and its causes will persist in the medium to long term.”
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer, speaking to broadcasters on Monday, said the government was “going down the wrong path”.
“The answer to that is to accept that there are problems in the operation of the protocol, but they could be worked out around the negotiating table – with political savvy, with guile, with confidence,” he said. Sir Keir.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have one in the current prime minister.”
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