EU tells UK to withdraw changes that would ‘breach’ Northern Ireland Protocol

The vice-president of the European Commission Maros Sefcovic has called on the UK government to withdraw draft legislation which he says would ‘breach’ provisions of the Northern Ireland Protocol which forms part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

Following the publication by the UK government of the draft ‘United Kingdom Internal Market Bill’ yesterday (September 9, 2020), vice-president Sefcovic called for an extraordinary meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee.

The meeting in London today (September 10) was aimed at requesting the UK government to elaborate on its intentions and to respond to the EU’s serious concerns.

The meeting was attended by vice-president Sefcovic and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove.

The vice-president stated in no uncertain terms:

“The timely and full implementation of the withdrawal agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland – which Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government agreed to, and which the UK Houses of Parliament ratified less than a year ago – is a legal obligation.

The EU expects the letter and spirit of this agreement to be fully respected.

“Violating the terms of the withdrawal agreement would break international law, undermine trust and put at risk the ongoing future relationship negotiations.”

Withdrawal agreement and Protocol on Northern Ireland

The withdrawal agreement entered into force on February 1, 2020, and has legal effects under international law.

Since that point in time, neither the EU nor the UK can unilaterally change, clarify, amend, interpret, disregard or disapply the agreement.

Vice-president Sefcovic added: “The Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland is an essential part of the withdrawal agreement.

“Its aim is to protect peace and stability on the island of Ireland and was the result of long, detailed and difficult negotiations between the EU and the UK.

If the bill were to be adopted, it would constitute an extremely serious violation of the withdrawal agreement and of international law.

The EU says it does not accept the argument that the aim of the draft bill is to protect the Good Friday Agreement and says it does the opposite.

Vice-president Sefcovic has called on the UK government to withdraw these measures from the draft UK bill in the shortest time possible and “in any case by the end of the month”.

He stated that by putting forward this bill, the UK has seriously damaged trust between the EU and the UK and that it is now up to the UK government to re-establish that trust.

He reminded the UK government that the withdrawal agreement contains a number of mechanisms and legal remedies to address violations of the legal obligations contained in the text – which the EU will not be shy in using.

The effects of a breach of the protocol could be particularly serious for the movement of milk between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Speaking to AgriLand, Conor Mulvihill, the director of Dairy Industry Ireland (DII), the Ibec group representing the dairy processing sector, said: “We’re like everyone in Ireland, Europe and, to be fair, the UK as well. Taken aback is a soft way of putting it.

“We would have always viewed the protocol agreed last October as somewhat imperfect, but it at least guaranteed no physical border on the island of Ireland.”