THE UK and EU have moved closer to a Brexit-related trade war, with Brussels launching fresh legal action over the UK’s failure to comply with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The European Commission today triggered four new “infringement procedures” against the UK for non-compliance with “significant parts” of the Protocol.

It said that the UK had failed to implement the post-Brexit trading arrangement, despite agreeing to do so and despite repeated calls by the 27 EU states.

The Commission said it had refrained from taking the action for a year “in the spirit of constructive cooperation” and hope of joint solutions.

However “the UK's unwillingness to engage in meaningful discussion since last February” and the UK Government’s Bill to unpick the Protocol had proved too much.

It said the procedures were intended to ensure compliance on anti-smuggling checks, excise duties and VAT for e-commerce, and were “essential” for Northern Ireland to keep its “privileged access to the EU single market”. 

If the UK fails to comply within two months, the Commission could take the issues to the European court of justice, which could fine the UK. 

The Commission could also impose trade sanctions on the UK which could be met with a tit-for-tat response from London. 

The dispute risks a trade war, with tariffs being imposed or even the suspension of the entire Brexit deal between the UK and EU.

The Commission said: “Despite repeated calls by the European Parliament, the 27 EU Member States and the European Commission to implement the Protocol, the UK Government has failed to do so.

“In a spirit of constructive co-operation, the Commission refrained from launching certain infringement procedures for over a year to create the space to look for joint solutions with the UK.

“However, the UK’s unwillingness to engage in meaningful discussion since last February and the continued passage of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill through the UK Parliament go directly against this spirit.”



The latest action comes on top of the infringement procedures launched on June 15.

The Protocol requires regulatory checks and customs declarations on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as they could flow onwards through the open border with Ireland into the EU’s single market.

This effectively means there is a trade border in the North Sea between NI and GB.

Seen by Unionists as a threat to the integrity of the UK, the protocol’s continued operation has resulted in the DUP blocking a return of the power-sharing executive at Stormont.

The UK Government’s Northern Ireland Protocol Bill would give ministers the power to override elements of the protocol - something critics say is a breach of international law.

Although approved by MPs this week, it now faces tough opposition in the House of Lords.

EU law professor Catherine Barnard, deputy director of the UK in a Changing Europe think tank, said the Commission was clearly “upping the ante”.

Although it was still focusing on “quite technical issues” and was yet to bring proceedings for a breach of the duty of good faith by bringing the Bill forward, she said.

“This does feel like they are now looking out for every breach and will now go after them rather than taking a more pragmatic approach to go after the bigger breaches. It’s quite clear it’s an escalation.”