EU to take legal action 'very soon' over UK Brexit deal breach
The European Union will launch legal action against the UK “very soon” over its decision to delay implementation of part of the Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland.
European Commission vice-president, Maroš Šefčovič, said Britain’s move, announcement on Wednesday, had come as a “very negative surprise”.
The UK said it would extending a series of “grace periods” designed to help ease trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain while permanent arrangements are put in place.
Under the Brexit treaty, signed by the British government with its full agreement, Northern Ireland remains in the EU single market for goods. There have been delays in deliveries to the region as EU states apply full customs checks, while UK officials have been more lenient under the grace period rules.
The move has angered officials in Brussels, with Britain accused of going back on its treaty obligations in the Brexit withdrawal agreement intended to ensure there is no return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Šefčovič - who is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the agreement - said the European commission was now working on “infringement proceedings” against the UK.
“We are currently preparing it and it would be really something coming to our table very soon. The most precise term I can give you is really very soon,” he said.
MEPs in the European parliament have already taken steps to delay formal ratification of the wider trade and cooperation agreement between Britain and the EU pending the outcome of the latest row.
The Northern Ireland protocol in the withdrawal agreement means keeping Northern Ireland aligned to various EU rules, requiring checks on goods arriving into the region from Great Britain.