The European Commission will launch two procedures against Britain, which Brussels believes violated the Brexit agreement by unilaterally delaying sensitive customs measures for Northern Ireland, European sources said on Friday.
The EU executive this week obtained the backing for the move from member states, who were informed that the procedures could be launched “as early as next week”, one of the sources said.
Brussels is angry at an announcement by London of a unilateral six-month delay -- until October 1 -- of custom controls on goods arriving in Northern Ireland from mainland Britain.
Denouncing a “breach” of the Brexit agreement, the EU had promised to respond swiftly to the move, which Britain decided only two months after the UK formally left the European single market.
According to EU sources, the commission will first send “a letter of formal notice” to London for violating the protocol of the 2019 divorce pact that deals with Ireland.
This protocol is designed to preserve peace on the island of Ireland by preventing the return of a border between the UK territory of Northern Ireland and EU member the Republic of Ireland.
The letter is the first step in an “infringement procedure” that may end up, after a lengthy process, before the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which may impose fines.
The Commission is also expected to start activating the dispute settlement mechanism included in the same agreement, on the grounds that the UK has not respected its obligations in the application of the treaty, the same sources said.
Brussels will initially call for the dispute to be resolved within the framework of the joint committee responsible for ensuring the proper application of the Withdrawal Agreement, failing which it could request the establishment of an arbitration panel to take up the matter.
The legal battle comes before the EU-UK trade pact, agreed in December after painful negotiations, has even been formally ratified by European Parliament.
MEPs have yet to set a date for its ratification, annoyed by London’s delays on the customs checks.
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