EU - UK Relations

EU takes legal action against UK over breach of Brexit obligations

A man sorts through a delivery of washing machines with a sign is seen across the road featuring a message against the Brexit border checks in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol in the town centre of Larne, Northern Ireland. February 12, 2021.
A man sorts through a delivery of washing machines with a sign is seen across the road featuring a message against the Brexit border checks in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol in the town centre of Larne, Northern Ireland. February 12, 2021. REUTERS - CLODAGH KILCOYNE

The European Union’s envoy to the UK Joao Vale de Almeida has said this Tuesday that the Northern Ireland protocol negotiated between Britain and the EU in December is the solution to paving a way to allow for the free movement of goods between the two jurisdictions, and not the problem.

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Today's comments come as the EU launched legal proceedings against Britain on Monday, alleging that London had broken the protocol of its Brexit divorce agreement covering Ireland.

Speaking on British radio this Tuesday morning, the EU envoy, Joao Vale de Almeida was responding to calls from some in Northern Ireland for the protocol to be scrapped on the grounds that it creates trade barriers between the province and the rest of the United Kingdom in order to protect Europe’s single market.

As both London and Brussels are coming to terms with the difficult fallout from Brexit, almost 10 weeks after the UK finally left the bloc, Vale de Almeida said that "this protocol is a result of long and complex negotiations ... I tend to say that the protocol is the solution and not the problem."

"Those who oppose the protocol today, they are not presenting any alternative because in fact there isn't (one)," he added.

UK downplays delay in customs controls

The latest spat marks a bitter new setback to cross-Channel relations just months after the EU and Britain secured a hard-won trade deal on Christmas Eve.

EU officials are angry at London’s unilateral declaration of a six-month delay of custom controls on goods arriving into Northern Ireland from mainland Britain.

The EU maintains this violates the protocol of the 2019 Brexit agreement that deals with Ireland, one of the most sensitive and fought over issues of Britain's break from bloc membership after 47 years.

A UK government spokesperson has said they "would respond in due course" to the lawsuit, while insisting the delays were the kind of "low key" and normal adjustment seen in the early days of any big trade deal.

This is "not something that should warrant legal action," the spokesperson added.

Fears for the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement

The Irish protocol was designed to preserve peace on the island of Ireland by preventing the return of a border between the UK territory of Northern Ireland and EU member the Republic of Ireland.

The UK has 30 days to respond to the letter or otherwise see the legal proceedings go one step further.

It is the second time the EU has feuded with Britain over the Irish question it had thought resolved.

Last year, the Johnson government knowingly violated international law and the divorce deal by passing a bill that violated the Irish protocol.

It later withdrew the law, though the move created a deep distrust among the Europeans.

Johnson is under pressure over the Irish problem, with Unionist factions in Northern Ireland furious over the new trade arrangements that they see as intolerable.

Since the protocol came into effect on 1 January, the Police Service of Northern Ireland have warned of rising sectarian tentions gathering pace in the province. 

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