BRUSSELS – The European Union took legal action against Britain on Thursday over its plans to pass legislation that would breach parts of the legally binding divorce agreement the two sides reached late last year.
The EU move underscored the worsening relations with Britain, which was a member of the bloc until Jan. 31. Both sides are trying to forge a rudimentary free trade agreement before the end of the year, but the fight over the controversial U.K. Internal Market bill has soured relations this month.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the British plan "by its very nature is a breach of the obligation of good faith laid down in the Withdrawal Agreement."
"If adopted as is, it will be in full contradiction to the protocol of Ireland-Northern Ireland" in the withdrawal agreement," she said.
EU leaders fear that if the U.K. bill becomes law, it could lead to the reimposition of a hard land border between Northern Ireland, which is part of Britain, and EU member Ireland, and erode the stability that has underpinned peace since the 1998 Good Friday accord.
The EU had given London until Wednesday to withdraw the bill, but U.K. lawmakers voted 340-256 Tuesday to push the legislation past its last major hurdle in the House of Commons.
Von der Leyen said “the deadline lapsed yesterday. The problematic provisions haven't been removed. Therefore this morning, the commission has decided to send a letter of formal notice to the U.K. government,” which augurs the start of a protracted legal battle.
“The commission will continue to work hard towards a full and timely implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement," she said. "We stand by our commitment.”