The European Commission sent a letter of formal notice to the UK Monday for breaching the provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol and its good faith obligation under the EU Withdrawal Agreement.
The notice was accompanied by a political letter to David Frost, the UK’s co-chair of the Joint Committee, calling on the UK government to refrain from breaching the UK’s international obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement and for the UK to “enter into bilateral consultations in the Joint Committee in good faith, with the aim of reaching a mutually agreed solution” by the end of March.
This move comes as a result of a statement made by the UK government earlier this month in which the UK had indicated its intention to unilaterally delay the full application of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland concerning the Movement of goods and pet travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. This would have had the effect of extending extend the grace period regarding the application of new rules for exports from the British mainland to Northern Ireland.
Such a move would further constitute a breach of the commitments made by the UK at an EU-UK Joint Committee meeting last month, where the UK had promised to provide a new operational plan with respect to supermarkets and their suppliers, alongside additional investment in digital solutions for traders in accordance with the Protocol.
In a statement, Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, the EU’s co-chair of the Joint Committee, justified this move by asserting that:
The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland is the only way to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement and to preserve peace and stability, while avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and maintaining the integrity of the EU single market. The EU and the UK agreed the Protocol together. We are also bound to implement it together. Unilateral decisions and international law violations by the UK defeat its very purpose and undermine trust between us. The UK must properly implement it if we are to achieve our objectives.
Following this notice, the UK will have one month to submit its observations to the letter of formal notice, following which the EU Commission will be able to decide if it wishes to continue with the proceedings and request the European Court of Justice to impose a lump sum or penalty payment.
The EU may also provide a written notice to commence consultations under Article 169 of the Withdrawal Agreement, which provides for a Dispute Settlement Mechanism process. Failure to reach a solution may lead to the referral of the dispute to binding arbitration, which in turn could lead to the imposition of financial sanctions by the arbitration panel.
This is the second time that the EU and the UK have disagreed in regards to the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, following the UK government’s attempts to adopt the Internal Market Bill (UKIMB), which would have unilaterally override parts of the country’s Brexit deal with the EU.