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EU agrees new law to impose Brexit sanctions

EU lawmakers on Wednesday (30 November) finalised a law that will allow the bloc to take retaliatory measures, including sanctions against the UK if it refuses to implement the terms of the Brexit agreement.  

The bill on Brexit sanctions mechanisms would empower the European Commission to impose restrictions on trade, investment or other activities if the UK was to breach the terms of its Trade and Cooperation and Withdrawal Agreements. 

In the final trilogue meeting between MEPs and ministers, lawmakers agreed to narrow the criteria and reduce the number of steps for the EU before taking action and imposing sanctions. 

Officials working on the file told EURACTIV the focus was on enabling the Commission to respond faster to breaches of the Brexit agreements. 

Lawmakers were also anxious to avoid a repeat of the Commission’s short-lived decision in February 2021 to suspend the Northern Ireland protocol due to concerns over COVID-19 vaccine procurement by giving MEPs oversight over the suspension and sanctions mechanisms. 

In the final compromise text, MEPs secured the ‘right to information’ for the Parliament, which means that the European Commission would consult the Parliament before any action was taken against the UK following a breach of the agreement. 

“Politically, this Regulation is a strong statement of EU unity and readiness to take action if the UK were to breach either agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. Especially if the British government was refuse to participate in the dispute resolution mechanisms provided for,” said Seán Kelly, the Irish EPP deputy who led Parliament’s negotiating team. 

“Of course, we would prefer if the enforcement mechanisms were not needed. However, while we welcome the more constructive and positive approach from the UK towards the EU under Prime Minister Sunak, we have yet to see that translated into action. The mood music is much better, and while I think we are going in the direction, the reality is the legal situation remains the same,” he added. 

The status and implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland by establishing a system of customs checks on goods travelling across the Irish Sea, has been one of the main causes of contention between London and Brussels. 

Having negotiated and agreed on the protocol, Boris Johnson’s government deemed it to be unworkable following strong criticism from Northern Ireland’s pro-British unionist community which complains that the checks separate Northern Ireland from the UK’s own internal market, and a bill to unilaterally override the provisions of the protocol is still being scrutinised in the UK parliament 

“From an Irish perspective, this Regulation is also essential to protect the all-Ireland economy. There have been positive indications that the UK government wants to repair some of the damage done to its relations with the Irish government,” said Kelly 

“It is in everyone’s interests to make the Northern Ireland Protocol work as the only solution to the hard Brexit chosen by the UK. The Protocol’s main goal is to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland and to preserve peace”, he added. 

The new law is set to enter into force early next year. 

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

Source: Eura Ctiv

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