By Susy Hodges
The EU’s stark ultimatum was delivered during a meeting in London on Thursday between the European Commission’s Vice President Maros Sefcovic and the British cabinet Minister Michael Gove. The ultimatum followed moves by the British government to amend part of the Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland if the two sides fail to strike a deal over trade.
In a strongly-worded statement issued after the meeting the EU said the planned moves by the British government violated international law and had seriously damaged trust between the two sides. The statement added that the EU would not be shy to launch legal action against Britain unless the government’s plans were dropped.
It also raised concerns that rowing back on the Withdrawal Deal could undermine the Good Friday Peace Agreement that ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
In its response the British government showed it was not prepared to back down. Minister Gove said he had made it perfectly clear during his talks with the EU that the government would not withdraw the proposed bill.
Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis earlier admitted that the bill would break international law in what he termed “a very specific and limited way.” The planned bill has also triggered a looming rebellion within the government’s Conservative party. A group of up to 30 rebel lawmakers are reportedly threatening to vote against the new legislation and significantly they include several senior figures who voted for Brexit.
The government’s new bill had already come under strong criticism from many within the ruling party. The critics include two former prime ministers John Major and Teresa May who say the bill risks undermining Britain’s reputation as an upholder of international law.