EU launches legal action against UK over NI protocol changes

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The European Commission has announced it is taking legal action against the UK, following the introduction of legislation in London to make changes to the Northern Ireland protocol.

The UK's latest steps to introduce legislation that would lead to changes in the Northern Ireland protocol have prompted legal action by the European Union.

Introduced as part of the post-Brexit trade deal agreed by London and Brussels in 2019, the Northern Ireland protocol is a set of measures designed to ensure the continuation of free trade across the Irish land border and to protect the Good Friday Agreement.

The UK government claims the arrangements have proven disruptive to trade and power-sharing efforts in Northern Ireland.

On June 13th, it was announced that a bill was being introduced to "fix" what London views as the most problematic parts of the protocol - including "unnecessary" costs and paperwork for businesses trading within the UK - while safeguarding the Good Friday Agreement and the EU single market.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss described the legislation as a "reasonable, practical solution to the problems facing Northern Ireland".

However, European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said that, by introducing the bill to make changes to the protocol, the UK had confirmed its intention to "unilaterally break international law".

"Let there be no doubt: there is no legal, nor political justification whatsoever for unilaterally changing an international agreement," he added.

"Let's call a spade a spade: this is illegal."

Mr Sefcovic said the EU would be pursuing various legal actions against the UK, including two new proceedings relating to controls at border posts in Northern Ireland and the provision of trade data required for the protection of the single market.

This could result in the UK being fined by the European Court of Justice.

The dispute process could continue for several months, and the European Commission stressed that its "door remains open" for constructive dialogue.

"We want to discuss these solutions with the UK government. Given that the UK hasn't sat down at the table with us since February, I think it's high time to show some political will to find joint solutions," said Mr Sefcovic.

Ms Truss said London also wants to make progress through talks with Brussels, but this is only possible "if the EU are willing to change the protocol itself".