The European Commission is asking the British Government for an emergency meeting on a draft bill that could flout the Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland, Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said on Wednesday.
“I have called for an extraordinary EU-UK Joint Committee to be held as soon as possible,” Sefcovic tweeted, “so that our UK partners elaborate and respond to our strong concerns regarding their announcement.”
Together with British Minister Michael Gove, Sefcovic is leading the joint committee that oversees the proper implementation of the separation agreement reached between the European Union and the United Kingdom last year.
On Wednesday, the British Government published a draft bill to clarify the application of the agreement. The government has already recognised that the draft will deviate in a “very specific and limited way” from the Irish Protocol.
That protocol, one of the cornerstones of the agreement, is designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. However, the Conservative Government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to introduce into UK law a number of state aid and customs provisions which would deviate from the protocol.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is “very concerned about announcements from the British Government on its intentions to breach the Withdrawal Agreement,” she tweeted on Wednesday afternoon.
“This would break international law and undermines trust. Pacta sunt servanda = the foundation of prosperous future relations,” she added.
“Boris Johnson needs to find a third way to avoid disaster – that means inventing a new phrase such as ‘implementation period’ once the transition period comes to an end and during which time everything will still stay the same,” commented Roger Casale, a former British MP and Secretary General of citizens’ rights NGO New Europerans. “He could and would blame such a move on COVID-19.”
On the basis of the withdrawal agreement, the United Kingdom left the European Union at the end of January. Until the end of 2020, the British will remain part of the European Customs Union and of the single market.
From 2021, a free trade agreement should organise economic relations, but the new steps taken by the UK Government have put even more pressure on the already very difficult negotiations on this trade agreement. If there is no agreement, there will still be a so-called hard brexit at the end of this year.