EU launches legal action over UK decision to unilaterally extend Brexit grace period

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The European Union (EU) has launched legal action against the UK over its decision to unilaterally extend the Brexit grace period, sending a formal letter accusing Britain of breaching the Northern Ireland protocol.

The EU Commission’s spokesperson confirmed that legal proceedings had been started against the UK, claiming that it was a necessary response as it’s the “2nd time in the space of 6 months that the UK government is set to breach international law”.

The EU’s move follows the UK’s announcement earlier this month that it plans to unilaterally change the Withdrawal Agreement to give businesses more time to prepare for the impending new post-Brexit trade rules that are due to come into effect.

Speaking following the publication of the letter of formal notice, EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic stated that “Unilateral decisions and international law violations by the UK defeat its very purpose and undermine trust between us. The UK must properly implement it if we are to achieve our objectives.”

The UK hasn’t commented on the latest developments but Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has previously defended the unilateral decision, as “several temporary operational steps to avoid disruptive cliff edges as engagement with the EU.”

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The Northern Ireland Protocol was a measure included in the UK’s Brexit agreement to prevent the creation of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which would jeopardise the Good Friday peace agreement. Instead, it created a border in the Irish Sea, implementing checks for EU goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The formal letter from the EU Commission gives the UK one month to respond with its observations. Once the UK’s response has been received or if no response is provided, the Commission will consider if it is necessary to “issue a Reasoned Opinion” and “impose a lump sum or penalty payment”.

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