The European Commission launched four new legal actions against the UK government on Friday (22 July) for infringing the Northern Ireland Protocol – that part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement that governs unique customs and trade procedures between Great Britain and NI.
A statement from the commission said it was taking the legal action partly in light of “the continued passage of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill through the UK parliament”, which was said to “go directly against” a spirit of seeking joint solutions to current issues.
Brussels said the UK is failing to impose the correct border checks on goods coming from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, increasing the risk of smuggling.
The other three breaches relate to the UK’s purported failure to implement EU rules on:
- Excise duty collection
- VAT for e-commerce (namely, the Import One-Stop Shop)
- Alcohol duty
A spokesman for the UK government, which has been given two months to respond, said the legal action was unnecessary.
Heading to adjudication
The latest set of proceedings are in addition to another three infringement cases from June this year relating to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks on food and alleged failures to provide the EU with trade statistics agreed to under the Brexit deal.
These cases are heading to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for a full hearing, and could result in significant fines and even tariffs on British goods, according to The Guardian.
If Britain fails to pay the fines, the EU could suspend parts of the post-Brexit EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement that underpins tariff-free trade between the UK and the EU, reports The Telegraph.
Former Brexit minister Lord Frost suggested the legal proceedings proved that the ECJ’s role overseeing the protocol needed to be stripped.
“Those who still think that the ECJ’s role in Northern Ireland is just a theoretical or ideological issue may want to think again,” he said.
Under the proposed Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, any future disputes would be resolved by independent arbitration rather than going to the ECJ, according to the BBC.
NI Protocol Bill debate
Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, introduced the NI Protocol Bill to parliament last month, where it has completed its passage through the Commons. It will be debated in the autumn in the Lords, where peers are likely to raise objections, reports The Times.
Both Truss and her competitor to become the next PM, Rishi Sunak, have committed to passing the Bill, reports The Express.