The European Union (EU) announced on Wednesday (15) two new lawsuits against the United Kingdom in retaliation for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent attempt to modify parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, one of the most controversial parts of Brexit. The block claims that the measure is illegal.
The actions are not related to the scope of the changes Boris wants to make, but rather to allegations that London has been breaching parts of the protocol. The process could result in fines imposed by the Court of Justice, the European bloc’s main court, although that possibility could take months to occur.
Slovak EU Vice President Maros Sefcovic, in charge of Brexit affairs, reiterated he saw no legal or political justification for unilaterally changing the international deal and said the British gesture leaves Brussels “with no option but to act”.
The British government presented the bill amending the protocol on Monday to Parliament, and potential legislative approval would take weeks. The law would exempt British goods from customs controls in trade with Belfast and would do away with taxes, among other things.
The EU’s first new lawsuit accuses London of failing to carry out necessary checks at Northern Irish border checkpoints, nor ensuring the necessary infrastructure. The second says that the bloc has not been presented with essential trade data to allow the EU to protect its single market.
In addition to the two new actions, the EU decided to reopen a third, which had been frozen since last year and claims that there was a failure to comply with certification rules for the circulation of agri-food products.
“The European Commission had been holding back legal action because we wanted to create a constructive atmosphere to find solutions,” said Sefcovic. “But the UK is not respecting the protocol. That’s why we are launching these infringement proceedings today.”
Boris Johnson’s office, through a spokesperson, said it was disappointed with the EU’s legal measures. “The approach would increase the burden on businesses and citizens and cause us to regress from where we are now,” he said, referring to the bloc’s proposals to ease post-Brexit trade with Northern Ireland.
The issue also causes disagreements in Belfast and gained greater relevance after the elections in May, which raised the nationalist Sinn Féin, the former political arm of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), as the main force in the regional Assembly. It was the first time such a thing had happened in over a hundred years.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the second largest force, said it would only collaborate to form the government if parts of the protocol were revised, as Boris Johnson is now proposing.
The leader of the DUP, Jeffrey Donaldson, said that the measure of the British premier is not illegal and that it characterizes the necessary solution. “Our pressure is making progress, and we will continue to work with the government to ensure this legislation moves forward,” he said this week.
Sinn Féin Assembly leader Michelle O’Neill accused Boris of creating more instability and uncertainty in Northern Ireland. “Boris Johnson’s action is illegal, he clearly violates international law, regardless of the details,” she said. “He himself signed the agreement and is now legislating to violate this international treaty.”