BRUSSELS/LONDON (Reuters) – The European Union launched a legal case against the United Kingdom on Thursday for undercutting their earlier divorce deal and a senior UK minister said differences remained in talks on a post-Brexit trade agreement.
Controversy over the UK’s new Internal Market Bill has thrown the tortuous Brexit process into a fresh crisis while disagreements over corporate subsidies, fisheries and ways to solve disputes are overshadowing parallel trade negotiations.
“We had invited our British friends to remove the problematic parts of their draft Internal Market Bill by the end of September,” the head of the EU’s executive Commission, Ursula von der Leyen said. “The deadline lapsed yesterday.”
With London not budging, she said the Commission started a so-called infringement, an EU legal procedure against countries that violate the bloc’s laws, while continuing to work towards implementing the divorce deal, or Withdrawal Agreement.
“We stand by our commitments,” von der Leyen said.
London now has a month to reply to the Commission’s formal letter of complaint and even more time to change tack before the Brussels-based executive can sue at the bloc’s top court. The case could lead to hefty fines, but that takes years.
“It think it is a logical administrative next step given that this particular law has now passed so many stages in the UK parliament,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on arriving at talks with his EU peers.
The Internal Market Bill has passed the UK’s lower chamber of parliament and now awaits debate in the House of Lords.
Sterling seesawed following the announcement, which came as the EU’s 27 national leaders began a two-day meeting in Brussels that will also assess progress in the negotiations over the new trade agreement, which are reaching a critical point.