The European Union on Thursday launched a legal case against Britain over its new Internal Market Bill that undercuts London’s earlier legal commitments under its Brexit divorce treaty, the head of the bloc’s executive said.
“The deadline lapsed yesterday. The problematic provisions have not been removed,” Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in a short address on Thursday.
The Commission has “decided to send a letter of formal notice to the UK government — this is the first step in an infringement procedure,” she added.
Such so-called infringements could lead to hefty fines being imposed by the EU’s top court but that takes years, leaving plenty of time for the UK to change tack.
London now has one month now to reply to a formal letter of complaint from the Commission, which will then assess whether the answer is satisfactory and can then request that the UK falls back in line. If that fails, it can sue at the Luxembourg-based European Cort of Justice.
The move comes as British and EU negotiators struggle to close the gap on state aid in paralell trade negotiations that have been overshadowed by the new controversy over the Internal Market Bill.
The EU’s Michel Barnier and the UK’s David Frost are currently holding the ninth round of Brexit negotiations in the hopes of hammering out a deal before the end of the transition period.
But tensions were ratcheted up significantly earlier this month when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the Internal Market Bill that would allow his government to override part of the Withdrawal Agreement — a treaty he ratified in January that sets the terms for the country’s exit from the bloc.
Brussels has rejected Johnson’s argument that his controversial bill would protect the Good Friday Agreement that guarantees peace in Northern Ireland and warned that it will “not be shy” in taking London to court if it proceeds with the bill.
At the same time, Michael Gove, who leads Britain’s team in those talks, said Britain and the European Union have made progress in the joint committee charged with implementing their divorce agreement, adding that the two sides would meet in the coming weeks.
“We made progress in a number of areas and specialised committees will meet in the coming weeks, in order to conclude further work,” Gove told parliament.