customs border control

Northern Ireland Protocol Bill compromises EU single market operations

The European single market has been jeopardized by a new legal claim against Great Britain for failure to enforce excise rules, EU customs and VAT – in addition to a separate legal challenge to the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which would allow the UK to abandon some border arrangements without consulting the EU.

The bill was passed in its final stages in the House of Commons earlier this week, but it could face a difficult time in the Lords later this year.

This legislation would also allow companies in the United Kingdom exporting to Northern Ireland to choose between meeting EU or UK regulatory standards, which are expected to diverge increasingly.

The European Commission announced four new infringement procedures because Britain was failing to meet the obligations it agreed to when it signed the protocol. It also explicitly linked the legal action to the passage of the Northern Ireland protocol bill in parliament.

“We had put this legal action on hold in September 2021 in a spirit of constructive cooperation to create the space to look for joint solutions. The UK’s unilateral action goes directly against this spirit. The Commission will also consider launching new infringement procedures that protect the EU single market from the risks that the violation of the Protocol creates for EU businesses and for the health and safety of EU citizens, ” stated Maroš Šefčovič, the EU’s Brexit commissioner. 

The Commission alleged that the United Kingdom has significantly increased the risk of smuggling by failing to impose agreed-upon controls on goods moving from Northern Ireland to the United Kingdom.

In December 2020, the United Kingdom issued a unilateral declaration promising “unfettered access” for goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain.

The EU later agreed to accept “equivalent” real-time information on goods movements, but the Commission said on Friday that Britain was not collecting or providing the necessary data.

Britain has also failed to apply new EU excise duty rules to Northern Ireland, as well as implement EU VAT rules for e-commerce.

The four new infringement procedures are in addition to the legal action launched by the EU Commission against Britain last month for the non-implementation of the protocol. If Britain does not respond within two months, the Commission may refer the complaints to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which may levy fines against the British government.

The EU’s legal action came as British officials blamed France for long delays at the Port of Dover, which was declared a “critical incident” on Friday. Brexit has necessitated increased checks by French officials for passengers leaving the UK via Dover, but there were insufficient French border officials to man the booths on Friday.

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