EU’s legal action ‘irrelevant’ as Brexit expert exposes real reason for Brussels’ move

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Boris Johnson triggered outrage among European Union leaders by pressing ahead with the Internal Market Bill, which could override key elements of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement with the EU and consequently, risks breaking international law. Downing Street insists the legislation is needed to protect the Northern Ireland peace process if Britain is unable to secure a deal with the EU. The Government is proposing “limited clarifications” to the law to ensure ministers can preserve the gains of the Good Friday Agreement in the event of no deal outcome between the two sides.

But now the European Commission has opened legal proceedings against the UK, with President Ursula von der Leyen confirming a “letter of formal notification” would be sent after ministers rejected a demand to withdraw the provisions from the Bill by yesterday.

However, despite the aggressive move from the EU, one Brexit expert has explained how the legal action could soon become “irrelevant”.

When asked if the move from Brussels could have any immediate consequences, Professor Iain Begg from the London School of Economics told German newspaper BILD: “No. Litigation takes so long that it is very likely to become irrelevant before it even comes close to a trial.

“Therefore the move will likely be shrugged off by the British side.”

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Professor Begg also exposed the true reason for the EU launching legal action against the UK Government as the argument over the Internal Market Bill continues to boil over.

He added: “Johnson and his colleagues have said that the provisions in the draft law are an emergency plan that only comes into effect if there is no agreement.

“I would similarly interpret the EU action as a measure to enforce the withdrawal agreement when things go bad.”

But the EPP Group in the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee (ECON) in the European Parliament has insisted the move to take legal action against Britain is the right one.

Spokesman Marcus Ferber, the CSU politician in Germany who has been an MEP since 1994, said: “The step is logical.

“The UK has deliberately violated international law and massively undermined confidence in the ongoing negotiations.”

European Commission President Ms von der Leyen did not say what action might follow if the UK does not provide a satisfactory response.

But under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement signed last year, the EU could potentially take Britain to the European Court of Justice.

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In a press statement at the commission headquarters in Brussels, she said: “This draft Bill is by its very nature a breach of the obligation of good faith laid down in the Withdrawal Agreement.

“The deadline lapsed yesterday, the problematic provisions have not been removed, therefore the commission has decided this morning 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.”

Downing Street said the Government would respond to the letter from the EU “in due course”.

A spokesman said: “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.”

Despite the legal action from the EU, Downing Street insisted post-Brexit trade talks between the two sides are being carried out in a “constructive spirit”.

The final formal round of talks has been taking place in Brussels this week, and will conclude with a meeting between chief negotiators David Frost and Michel Barnier on Friday.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “The discussions are carrying on today.

“They have been conducted in a constructive spirit and we certainly are committed to continuing to work constructively this week to reach an agreement with the EU.”

Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg.

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