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EU launches legal action over UK’s Northern Ireland Brexit bill

LONDON — The EU has launched legal action against the U.K. in the wake of its “illegal” bill to amend post-Brexit trade rules.

The European Commission announced it was launching two new lawsuits against the U.K. government for failing to meet two obligations under the Northern Ireland protocol. It argues the U.K. has failed to adequately resource border control posts in Northern Ireland where food safety checks should be carried out, and to provide the EU with trade data needed to monitor the movement of goods into the region.

Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič told a press conference in Brussels that the U.K. bill introduced in the House of Commons Monday, which would give British ministers powers to ignore parts of the protocol, “breaks international law.”

“Let it be no doubt: There is no legal nor political justification whatsoever for unilaterally changing an international agreement,” he said. “Opening the door to unilaterally changing an international agreement is a breach of international law as well. So let’s call a spade a spade. This is illegal.”

The Northern Ireland protocol effectively kept Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market after the U.K. left the bloc in a bid to avoid a land border at the politically sensitive frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

But London has argued the arrangement is imposing unnecessary bureaucracy on traders moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, while unionists in Northern Ireland are refusing to join a power-sharing government unless the protocol is renegotiated.

The EU executive will also resume an infringement process launched against the U.K. last year which had been put on hold to create room for talks with London on how to make the operation of the protocol less burdensome on businesses and citizens in Northern Ireland.

In this case, the Commission will issue the U.K. with a “reasoned opinion” giving it two months to respond. If the British response is not satisfactory to the EU, the Commission will refer the case to the Court of Justice of the EU.

An EU official said the Commission’s response to the U.K.’s unilateral plan was “proportionate” and “measured but firm.”

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