The European Union (EU) launched legal action against the UK on Monday (15 March) over breaches of the Brexit arrangements on the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol.
The breaches, as described by Brussels, refer to attempts by London to unilaterally extend the so-called Brexit “grace period” on food imports to Northern Ireland.
The EU Commission’s move comes after the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, declared on March 03 that the UK would continue to exclude certain imports from bureaucratic requirements until October 01.
Meanwhile, Maroš Šefčovič, Vice President of the European Commission's Interinstitutional Relations department sent a letter to the UK Prime Minister's Europe adviser, David Frost, on the issue, to formally notify London of its alleged breach of the Withdrawal Agreement, a move that could potentially result in financial sanctions on the UK.
In his letter, urging the UK government to correct its proposed protocol extension and refrain from implementing it, Šefčovič also offered to start a political discussion by the conclusion of the grace period at the end of March.
While alleging that the UK has breached the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement, the letter called the UK's unilateral measures “a violation of the duty of good faith”, and urged London to enter "bilateral consultations in the joint committee” to reach a “mutually agreed solution”.
Furthermore, the Vice President’s letter issued a harsh rebuke of the UK's actions noting that the UK “must stop acting unilaterally and stop violating the rules it has signed up to”
Šefčovič stressed the necessity of mutual trust for implementing the protocol, and complained that “unilateral decisions and international law violations by the UK defeat its very purpose and undermine trust between us”.
In yet another rebuke, Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, slammed the UK's extension of the grace period earlier this month, saying that the EU is “negotiating with a partner it simply can't trust”.
It is worth noting that the legal action launched by the EU could potentially land the UK in front of the European Court of Justice, which could in turn incur a significant financial penalty for London.