Emilie GOMEZ © European Union 2017 – Source : EP
The European Commission announced on Monday that it has sent a letter of formal notice to the government of the UK for the violation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, as well as the good faith obligation, which is part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. With this step, the Commission has started the infringement procedure, which might eventually bring the UK before the European Court of Justice – if it does not take the necessary actions to prevent this.
The source of the conflict is the sensitive issue of how to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and Ireland (EU member), in order to ensure compliance with the Good Friday Agreement. In the Protocol, which the UK and the EU ratified and which became effective on 1 February 2020, both parties agree to effectively make Northern Ireland part of the EU’s single market. This is to facilitate the movement of goods on the island while ensuring EU standards are applied everywhere so that goods from the Irish island can enter the rest of the EU.
Despite the ratification of the Protocol, the UK decided on 3 and 4 March to unilaterally delay its application. This is problematic, since responsibility for enacting it lays fully with the UK.
Expressing his disappointment about the UK’s action, Commission Vice-President and co-chair of the Joint Committee, Maroš Šefčovič, said today about the Protocol: “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. That is why we are launching legal action today. I do hope that through the collaborative, pragmatic and constructive spirit that has prevailed in our work so far on implementing the Withdrawal Agreement, we can solve these issues in the Joint Committee without recourse to further legal means.”
Aside from starting the infringement procedure, which relates to the violation of the Protocol, Maroš Šefčovič also sent a political letter to his UK counterpart in the Joint Committee, David Frost, asking him to refrain from breaching the good faith obligation in the Withdrawal Agreement.
The UK now has one month to respond to the letter of formal notice before by issuing observations. If it does, the Commission can evaluate these and issue a reasoned opinion as to whether the UK’s claims are valid and if the situation has been rectified. If the Commission brings the matter before the European Court of Justice and the Court finds that the UK is violating the Protocol, it may impose a fine.