The European Commission’s move comes after the British legislature approved a bill to scrap parts of the trade deal after Brexit.
The European Union’s executive arm has launched four new legal proceedings against Britain after the House of Commons approved a bill to scrap some of the rules governing post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.
The European Commission, which oversees EU-UK relations, said on Friday that Britain’s unwillingness to engage in meaningful discussions on the protocol governing these trading arrangements and the House of Commons’ passage of the Northern Ireland Protocol bill undermines the spirit of cooperation.
London called the move “disappointing”. “A legal dispute is in nobody’s interests and will not solve the problems facing the people and businesses of Northern Ireland,” a government spokesman said.
The government will review the EU’s arguments “and respond in due course”.
The move brings to seven the number of “infringement proceedings” the commission has launched over what it sees as Britain’s failure to respect Northern Ireland’s trade aspects of the Brexit divorce deal agreed by both sides.
The proceedings could lead to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) imposing fines, although this is unlikely to happen for at least a year.
London has proposed scrapping some checks on goods from the rest of the UK arriving in the British province and challenged the role of the European Court of Justice to decide parts of the post-Brexit arrangement agreed by the two sides.
The Commission’s four new legal proceedings are not related to the UK’s new plans, but to its accusation that the UK has not implemented the protocol.
Northern Ireland is in the EU’s single market for goods, which means that imports from the rest of the UK are subject to customs declarations and sometimes require checks on arrival.
The scheme was put in place to avoid reintroducing border controls between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, but has infuriated pro-British unionist parties by effectively creating a border in the Irish Sea.
Specifically, the Commission accused the UK of failing to comply with customs requirements for goods moving from Northern Ireland to the UK, failing to implement EU rules on excise duties in general and taxes on alcohol and failing to implement EU rules on sales tax for e-commerce.
The Commission has given the UK two months to respond.