EU repeats legal warning to UK over treaty breach

epa08703278 Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Inter-institutional relations and Foresight, Maros Sefcovic attends the third meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee with Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove (unseen) and EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (on video conference) at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 28 September 2020. EPA-EFE/JOHN THYS / POOL

The European Commission has repeated its warning of legal action unless the UK government withdraws its controversial Internal Market Bill which would break the Withdrawal Agreement that took the UK out of the bloc in January, Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said on Monday (28 September).

Speaking following a meeting with UK Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, Commissioner Šefčovič told reporters he had repeated his demand for the UK government to withdraw calling for a “full restoration of trust” which he said would require the UK to withdraw the Internal Market Bill

“I didn’t get any indication from Chancellor (of the Duchy of Lancaster) Gove that they are going to do that,” he added.

The meeting of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee in Brussels on Monday had been billed as a key milestone in making progress to implement the treaty and break the impasse on wider trade talks.

Over the weekend, UK government officials had signalled that Boris Johnson’s government is hopeful of making a breakthrough on a post-Brexit trade pact after weeks of little progress and increasing rancour between the negotiating teams.

At the heart of that impasse is the Johnson government’s Internal Market Bill which is set to be passed by the House of Commons on Tuesday evening, although it is expected to meet resistance in the House of Lords, the UK’s upper chamber of parliament.

The bill, designed to govern trade within the UK, would break the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement that took the UK out of the EU in January, by giving UK ministers unilateral powers to override the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement on customs checks on goods travelling to and from Northern Ireland and state aid.

“UK’s position is far from what the EU can accept,” said Šefčovič.

He added that the Bill represented an “extremely serious violation of the Withdrawal Agreement” which “needs to be implemented, not renegotiated or unilaterally set aside”.

Still concerned about the administrative arrangements for EU settled status in the UK.

For his part, Gove insisted that the UK was anxious “to make sure that the Withdrawal Agreement is implemented in full,” but refused to withdraw the legislation.

“But those clauses are there, they’re in legislation, supported by the House of Commons, as a safety net, if need be. And those clauses will remain in that bill,” he told reporters.

In the meantime, little progress was made on the key points of difference, including the criteria according to which goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will be considered not “at risk” of subsequently moving into the EU, and not be subject to EU customs duties, the initial maximum level of agricultural support for NI farmers, and the implementation of VAT collection arrangements.

UK chief negotiator David Frost and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier today began the ninth round of UK-EU trade negotiations, in what is set to be the final week of formal talks ahead of the October 15-16 European Council, the self-imposed deadline by which Johnson has stated that a new deal needs to be concluded.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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