The European Union has launched legal action against the UK for making changes to Northern Ireland’s trading arrangements, an EU official said.
The European Commission has accused the UK of breaching EU law concerning the movement of goods and pet travel between Great Britain and Northern Ireland after the UK moved to unilaterally change parts of the deal to better suit British businesses earlier this month.
On 3 March, the UK announced it was going to extend grace periods relaxing controls on British supermarket suppliers and businesses trading in Northern Ireland.
There were concerns the terms negotiated last year, and signed by Boris Johnson, would cause further food shortages if implemented as agreed at the end of March.
Some supermarkets have struggled to maintain stocks since 1 January when the arrangement began and the UK says changing the grace period is not a breach and is necessary because the EU has refused to extend it.
The European Commission said this is the second time in six months the UK government “is set to breach international law”.
Launching the legal action, the EU has sent two letters: a formal notice of breaches under EU law and a political letter to David Frost, the UK’s co-chair of the Joint Committee of UK and EU officials, calling on the British government to refrain from extending the grace period.
European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic, who leads the issue for the EU, said: “The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland is the only way to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement and to preserve peace and stability, while avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland and maintaining the integrity of the EU single market.
“The EU and the UK agreed the Protocol together. We are also bound to implement it together.
“Unilateral decisions and international law violations by the UK defeat its very purpose and undermine trust between us.
“The UK must properly implement it if we are to achieve our objectives. That is why we are launching legal action today.
“I do hope that through the collaborative, pragmatic and constructive spirit that has prevailed in our work so far on implementing the Withdrawal Agreement, we can solve these issues in the Joint Committee without recourse to further legal means.”
The UK has a month to respond to the legal letter otherwise it faces a fine to be decided by the European Court of Justice.
The EU has urged the UK to enter into bilateral consultations with the aim of reaching a mutually agreed solution by the end of March.