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The European Union filed a lawsuit against the United Kingdom on Wednesday for failing to implement portions of the post-Brexit agreement it reached with the EU.
Earlier this week, the British government announced intentions to alter the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is part of a pact to keep the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland open and prevent sectarianism. The European Commission initiated the infringement procedure because the United Kingdom has failed to execute the agreement “despite repeated calls.”
The UK government claims that the deal must be “adjusted” to avoid “burdensome customs processes, rigid regulation, tax and expenditure disparities, and democratic governance difficulties.”
Renegotiating the protocol would be “unrealistic,” according to the EU, and modifying it unilaterally would be regarded as a breach of an international agreement, possibly subjecting the EU to a penalty.
“Let there be no doubt: there is no legal or political rationale whatsoever for unilaterally amending an international agreement,” said Maro efovi, Vice-President of the European Commission, speaking to reporters on Wednesday. It’s also a breach of international law to open the door to unilaterally amending an international agreement.
Details of the Northern Ireland Protocol
The pact was put in place to protect the Good Friday Agreement, which helped end years of deadly sectarian conflict and stipulates that there should be no hard border between the EU-member Republic of Ireland and the UK-member Northern Ireland.
The UK has decided to maintain Northern Ireland within the European Union regulatory structure in order to avoid a hard border. However, because the rest of the UK is not subject to EU regulations, products leaving Northern Ireland for the rest of the UK would be subject to inspection.
Despite agreeing to this arrangement, the British government now claims it is unjust. Efovi, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, said that in addition to starting the legal process, the EU was also presenting some “new details” on the alternative options it had previously recommended.
He did admit, though, that if the UK goes ahead with the measures, the conflict could worsen, possibly resulting in a trade war. “But we’re not there yet,” he said. “We want to resolve this issue the way the two partners should, through negotiations, finding common ground, and delivering for the people of Northern Ireland.”
If the British government does not answer within two months, the EU says it will take the UK to the European Court of Justice.