The European Union (EU) is ready to take legal action against the United Kingdom (UK) if the latter violates the letter or spirit of the Withdrawal Agreement it signed in January to begin exiting the EU. The UK has been given time until the end of this month to either abandon or suitably revise plans to introduce an Internal Market Bill in the British parliament to effectively renege on some of its obligations.
In possibly the angriest statement issued by either party in the Brexit process, the European Commission, which administers the EU, said, “Vice-President Maros Sefcovic (of the EC) stated that if the Bill were to be adopted, it would constitute an extremely serious violation of the Withdrawal Agreement and of international law.” It also maintained “neither the EU nor the UK can unilaterally change, clarify, amend interpret, disregard or disapply the agreement”.
It continued that Sefcovic “called on the UK government to withdraw these measures from the draft bill in the shortest time possible and in any case by the end of the month”. He alleged “by putting forward this bill, the UK has seriously damaged trust between the EU and the UK”. And pointed out that there was a number of mechanisms and legal remedies to address violations “which the European Union will not be shy in using”. It warned that violations will “put at risk the ongoing future relationship negotiations”.
The Europhobic Indian-origin British attorney-general, Suella Braverman, meanwhile published her legal opinion in defence of the proposed bill. She claimed “in the difficult and highly exceptional circumstances in which we find ourselves, it is important to remember the fundamental principle of parliamentary sovereignty”.
The EU suggested in a veiled manner that law and order in Northern Ireland (which is a part of Britain and where Catholics militants were persuaded to lay down arms in a 1998 agreement) would be in jeopardy. It reminded the UK, “The Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland is an essential part of the Withdrawal Agreement. Its aim is to protect peace and stability on the island of Ireland and was the result of long, detailed and difficult negotiations between the EU and the UK.”
Mark Elliott, professor of public law at Cambridge University, asserted the bill which would have been drafted by Braverman is “utterly risible”. He tweeted “the Internal Market Bill authorises Ministers to repudiate specific, critical and recently agreed legal obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement & NI (Northern Ireland) Protocol”. In another tweet he posted she “attempts, but fails, to make an exceptionalist argument based on parliamentary sovereignty & dualism”.
A section of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative party are distinctly uneasy about breaking treaty commitments. His predecessors Sir John Major and Theresa May have expressed shock at the development. Another former leader of the Conservatives, Lord Michael Howard, in a speech at the House of Lords asked: “How can we reproach Russia, China or Iran when their conduct falls below internationally accepted standards, when we are showing scant respect for our treaty obligations?”
The main opposition Labour party as well as Scottish nationalists and Liberal Democrats are firmly against rescinding international pledges. A response from the British government to the EU statement was awaited. The Indian high commission in London and Indian embassy in Brussels were following developments with interest.