The European Union (EU) has announced that it is planning to take legal action against the UK over proposed changes to the Northern Ireland (NI) Protocol.

UK ministers outlined a bill which would change elements of the deal struck with the EU in December 2020.

The vice-president of the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic, said that overriding parts of the Brexit deal which included the NI Protocol arrangement, would break international law.

He said:

“So let’s call a spade a spade, this is illegal.”

“Let there be no doubt, there is no legal nor political justification whatsoever for unilaterally changing an international agreement.

“The UK bill is extremely damaging to mutual trust and respect between the EU and the UK.”

He said that the decision made by the UK parliament “left us with no choice” but to commence legal proceedings against the UK.

NI Protocol changes

The NI Protocol Bill references four principal legislative changes to the previously agreed Brexit arrangements.

These are:

  1. The introduction of green and red channels to remove unnecessary costs and paperwork for businesses trading within the UK, while ensuring full checks are done for goods entering the European Union (EU);
  2. Businesses would have the choice of placing goods on the market in NI, according to either UK or EU goods rules, ensuring NI consumers are not prevented from buying UK standard goods, assuming that UK and EU regulations diverge over time;
  3. NI would be subject to the exact same tax and spending policies as would be the case for Great Britain (GB). Specifically, VAT would be included in this context;
  4. Brexit-related disputes would be resolved by independent arbitration and not by the European Court of Justice.

The bill extends to 20 pages. Detail on how the proposed legislative changes would be implemented on the ground is extremely sparse, with UK cabinet ministers indicating the need for expansive dialogue with all relevant stakeholder groups.