Speaking in Brussels, the chairman of the European Union Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that the European Union had invited the UK to remove the problematic parts of its draft internal market bill by the end of September. He added that the draft bill was “by nature very much a breach of the obligation of good faith set out in the Withdrawal Agreement,” adding that it would be “in complete contradiction” to the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The protocol was agreed to eliminate the need for border checks between the only land border shared by the European Union and Britain on the island of Ireland. Both sides fear that the investigation could lead to a return to a difficult border and sect violence that Ireland and Northern Ireland had long since missed.
Since the UK government has not pulled this law, the commission has written a letter of formal notice to the UK government, the first step in the breach process – the EU typically uses when parties violate agreements with the union.
“This letter invites the UK government to send its comments within a month and furthermore the Commission will continue to work hard for the full and timely implementation of the withdrawal agreement. We stand by our commitments,” Vaughan Der Leyne concluded.
The move, though dramatically expected in London. The government previously acknowledged that its Internal Market Bill would break the treaty and break international law “in a very specific and limited way”. The government claims the bill is a safety net to ensure uninterrupted trade between the four countries of the United Kingdom in the event of a deal Brexit later this year and hopes it will not have to use the law.
The background of all this is that trade talks between London and Brussels are entering their final stages. The final formal round of negotiations is still underway and the EU summit will take place on 15 October, where negotiators expect a deal will be on the table for EU leaders to approve.
Both sides say a deal is in sight, but are struggling to reach an agreement on some key issues, particularly around Britain’s ability to use state aid to access UK businesses . The EU says this could give British companies an unfair advantage over EU companies. There are also disputes over fishing rights and governance.
While both sides are showing their readiness without a deal and pointing fingers at each other, there is also a widespread acceptance that the recent drama may be part of a deliberate theater as negotiations reach their climax. If a deal is to happen, both sides will need to disclose it as if they have held a hard line and forced the other to take a concession.
The UK has one month to respond to the EU letter, which means there could be a deal in the meantime. The danger is that as negotiations intensify, very few people know that both sides are ready to agree honestly. Which means that the current currency is a gamble: it can move the dial in favor of one side, but it can also avoid negotiations and no deal by default.