Update: EU sues UK over Brexit bill controversy

UK Conservatives voted to rewrite trade deal in a contentious breach of law

written BY: WILL RIPPEY, staff writer
,Photo courtesy of UK Parliament via creativecommons.org
The European Union is suing the United Kingdom, alleging that a hotly-contested Brexit bill would violate EU safety regulations in North Irish trade.

The European Union began pursuing legal charges against the United Kingdom after it failed to remove problematic legislation from its exit bill. 

According to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, “This draft bill is, by its very nature, a breach of the obligation of good faith laid down within the withdrawal agreement. Moreover, if adopted as is, it will be in full contradiction to the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.”

The bill in question would grant U.K. members of Parliament (MPs) the power to rewrite sections of the Withdrawal Agreement that  deal with trade. 

Under this legislation, MPs would be able to remove any tariffs on Northern Irish imports into the U.K., remove any rules relating to trade on certain goods and override government aid for businesses starting Jan. 1, 2021.

The bill itself was met with approval in the House of Commons, passing 340 – 256. No conservative MPs voted against the bill. Cabinet Minister Michael Grove stated that the U.K. would not withdraw the bill under any circumstances. 

However, the bill was not without criticism. According to Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, the bill violates international law “in a very specific and limited way.” 

The bill would override specific aspects of trade legislation established by the EU in regard to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland requires trade arrangements specific to it in order to maintain the soft border established by the Good Friday agreement. 

This places it at odds with British economic interests, which aim to maintain the same trade legislation across U.K. member-states. 

“We have clearly set out our reasons for introducing the measures related to the Northern Ireland protocol. We need to create a legal safety net to protect the integrity of the U.K.’s internal market,” a U.K. government spokesperson stated in a press release.

The trade arrangements for Northern Ireland include requiring Northern Ireland to adhere to EU safety regulations and to fill out customs forms when sending goods to mainland Britain. 

British MPs have stated that these regulations infringe too heavily on British sovereignty. Britain is seeking a “no quota, no tariff” deal which would lift these restrictions from Northern Ireland. U.K. officials fear that the EU may attempt to use these restrictions as a means of influencing U.K. politics after Brexit is complete. 

 EU officials have made it clear that this is the only way for Northern Ireland to maintain its soft border with the Republic of Ireland, the EU member-state which it borders. 

If these restrictions are overturned by the U.K., a hard border will be established, which could lead to unrest in the region. 

“In the end, if there is a deal on the trade talks, there will have to be a ‘grand bargain,’ where the U.K. drops the offending clauses of the internal market bill if it wants the deal to be ratified on the EU side,” said a senior EU diplomat.

The timing of these proceedings has major economic implications as well. The proceedings could  possibly halt the ongoing trade negotiations between the U.K. and the EU. 

If a conclusion is not reached by the end of 2020, the U.K. will hard-exit from the EU, which could lead to billions of dollars in tariffs for both the EU and U.K.