European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has confirmed the EU has begun legal action against the UK over the controversial Internal Market Bill for its potential breaches of the Brexit treaty.
The EU has sent a formal notice of proceedings to the UK government, with von der Leyen warning some provisions in the parliamentary bill were in “full contradiction” of the previously signed Withdrawal Agreement.
The Internal Market Bill, which has passed through the House of Commons, contains clauses that would be activated in case no trade deal is reached between the UK and EU by 31 December.
These clauses include overrides of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, mostly relating to the flow of goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and is therefore a breach of international law.
European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič said earlier this month that the EU would take legal action against the UK if it did not drop the bill by the end of yesterday.
A Number 10 source said the action taken by the EU today was a “common tool” used by the bloc and that on average there are already “29 cases against each member state”.
Speaking this morning, Von der Leyen said: “This draft bill is by its very nature a breach of the obligation of good faith laid down in the Withdrawal Agreement. Moreover, if adopted as is it will be in full contradiction to the protocol of Ireland-Northern Ireland.
“The deadline lapsed yesterday, the problematic provisions have not been removed, therefore the commission has decided to send a letter of formal notice to the UK government – this is the first step in an infringement procedure.
“The letter invites the UK government to send its observations within a month and besides this the commission will continue to work hard towards a full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement.”
Von der Leyen’s announcement comes as London and Brussels appear to be inching closer to a Brexit trade deal to ensure the UK’s smooth exit from the EU’s single market and customs union on 31 December.
The two sides are meeting in Brussels this week and negotiations between the two teams’ chief negotiators to thrash out the final deal are expected to begin by next week.
A trade deal would ensure that the legal proceedings against the UK do not have to go any further.
A UK government spokesperson said: “We will respond to the letter in due course.
“We have clearly set out our reasons for introducing the measures related to the Northern Ireland Protocol. We need to create a legal safety net to protect the integrity of the UK’s internal market, ensure ministers can always deliver on their obligations to Northern Ireland and protect the gains from the peace process.”