Brexit: EU starts legal challenge against changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol 

After a draft law revealed that the UK plans to change parts of the Brexit treaty relating to Northern Ireland, the EU has announced that it will relaunch legal action. 

The UK originally negotiated with the EU to reach an agreement called the “Northern Ireland Protocol”  in a deal that was designed to overcome the issue of the Irish border. 

The deal meant that Northern Ireland would remain within the EU Single Market, avoiding a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. It would also mean that a de-facto border would be created between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. 

However, the UK now says that the agreement endangers the Good Friday Agreement, which was reached in 1998 and ended decades of violence in Ireland.  

In March last year, the European Commission started an infringement procedure against the UK for attempting to change the agreement, but this was put on hold to discuss other key elements of the Brexit agreement. 

The UK claims that the deal is leading to political instability among Unionists in Northern Ireland that want to keep strong links with the rest of the country. 

To address these concerns, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss published a draft law that overrides parts of the agreement. 

Among the changes, it includes creating “green and red channels” to avoid customs checks for goods being transported between Great Britain and Northern Ireland that are only intended for the Northern Irish market. 

It also wants to bypass the European Court of Justice for disputes to “ensure Northern Ireland can benefit from the same tax breaks and spending policies as the rest of the UK, including VAT”, opting for  “independent arbitration” instead.

The legal action that was first launched last year will now be restarted. The UK has two months to answer the EU’s concerns and if the answer is considered unsatisfactory, it will be referred to the  European Court of Justice.

The EU’s Brexit negotiator, Maroš Šefčovič said that “there is no legal nor political justification whatsoever for unilaterally changing an international agreement.”

He added: “Despite today’s legal action, our door remains open to dialogue. We want to discuss these solutions with the UK government. Given that the UK hasn’t sat down at the table with us since February, I think it’s high time to show some political will to find joint solutions.”

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