Brexit: EU mulls next steps in legal action as talks with UK stall

UK misses deadline to respond to warning over breach of withdrawal agreement

The European Commission is considering the next step in legal action against Britain for breaching the EU-UK withdrawal agreement, with little sign of a breakthrough after a fortnight of intense talks by the two sides over trade relations from January 1st.

The commission began infringement proceedings against Britain last month, saying that the introduction of the Internal Markets Bill -- which would override agreements made to avoid a border on the island of Ireland – was a breach of good faith provisions of last year's divorce deal.

Britain did not respond to the warning of impending legal action by a deadline of November 1st, prompting the commission to say it was considering issuing a “reasoned opinion”, which is the next step in infringement proceedings.


"We sent a letter of formal notice on 1st October to the UK for breaching its obligations under the withdrawal agreement," European Commission spokesman Daniel Ferrie said.


“As you know, it had until the end of the month to submit its observations to that letter. To date I can confirm that the EU has received no reply from the UK. Therefore we are considering next steps, including issuing a reasoned opinion.”

Mr Ferrie added: “This dispute will have to be resolved. We are fully dedicated to the full implementation of the withdrawal agreement . . . reached with the UK in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, in order to protect peace and stability on the island of Ireland.”

The British side does not consider that it had an obligation to respond by November 1st, and has said that it will continue to work to resolve disagreements over the implementation of the withdrawal agreement through the UK-EU joint committee.


“We are committed to working through the joint committee process to find a satisfactory outcome for both sides. That is our overriding priority,” a UK government spokeswoman said. “We will respond to the next stages of this process in due course, as required.”

Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier is set to update member states and the European Parliament this week following almost two weeks of intense negotiations with his British counterpart, and is expected to say that while progress has been made, there is no breakthrough on major sticking points.

“A lot of work still to be done,” said Mr Ferrie, the commission spokesman. “Negotiations are continuing on all the different topics.”

The two sides have long been at odds over three major issues: what authority should resolve disputes, how can fair competition be assured between companies, and access to British waters by EU boats after January 1st.

Recent efforts have focused on finding a compromise on the highly politically sensitive issue of fishing, but both sides have acknowledged that a deal has not yet come into view with less than nine weeks left before an abrupt change to trade relations between the closely entwined economies.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times