The European Commission has launched four new legal actions against the UK government for breaking parts of the Northern Ireland Brexit deal.
The so-called “infringement procedures” were announced on Friday and are in addition to others announced on 15 June this year.
Brussels says the UK is failing to impose the right customs checks on goods coming from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, which it says could help smugglers trying to breach export EU controls.
The other three breaches relate to the UK not properly implementing EU rules on excise duty collection, VAT for e-commerce, and alcohol duty – which the Commission says poses a “fiscal risk” to the bloc and could cost it money.
The three infringement cases previously opened and escalated in June related to certification of agricultural products, so-called “sanitary and phytosanitary” checks on food, and failing to provide the EU with the right statistics as agreed under the Brexit deal.
The European Commission first mooted legal action against the UK in March 2021 but put the process on hold while it worked with the UK to come to a solution.
The UK says the deal it signed up to is affecting trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and that it needs to be changed. While the Northern Ireland protocol has public support overall, it has upset some unionists who take issue with the new barriers to trade between GB and NI.
“Despite repeated calls by the European Parliament, the 27 EU Member States and the European Commission to implement the Protocol, the UK government has failed to do so,” the Commission said in a statement.
“In a spirit of constructive cooperation, the Commission refrained from launching certain infringement procedures for over a year to create the space to look for joint solutions with the UK. However, the UK’s unwillingness to engage in meaningful discussion since last February and the continued passage of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill through the UK Parliament go directly against this spirit.
‘The aim of these infringement procedures is to secure compliance with the Protocol in a number of key areas. This compliance is essential for Northern Ireland to continue to benefit from its privileged access to the European Single Market, and is necessary to protect the health, security and safety of EU citizens as well as the integrity of the Single Market.”
It comes after the Treasury admitted on Thursday that the Brexit divorce bill had climbed to £42.5bn, a roughly £10 billion increase on the figure calculated by the Office for Budget Responsibility when Britain left the bloc. The increase was largely due to an increase in pension liabilities for EU officials that the UK has agreed to pay.
Lord Frost, who personally negotiated the Brexit agreement but has since turned into one of its most vocal critics said: “Those who still think that the [European Court of Justice’s] role in Northern Ireland is just a theoretical or ideological issue may want to think again.”
Will the next PM be able to solve the Northern Ireland issue? Register for a free ticket to The Independent’s Brexit panel event, hosted by John Rentoul, here.