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European Union begins legal action against the UK over post-Brexit trade ‘breach’

The European Union has revealed it is formally launching legal action against the UK.

The move is being taken over what the EU views as the UK’s breach of the rules set up to work after Brexit.

The main area of dispute so far has been in Northern Ireland – which for a short period is not having to face all of the regulations that other nations in the EU have to deal with.

The EU says the UK has unlawfully extended the post-Brexit grace periods on trade there.

And EU officials say such a step is a violation of international law.

Now the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, is taking the first step towards proceedings over the alleged breach of the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol.

The protocol was designed by the UK and EU to avoid a hardening of the border on the island of Ireland when the post-Brexit transition period ended on December 31.

Under it, Northern Ireland remained part of the EU’s single market for goods, meaning products arriving from Great Britain face EU import regulations.

The first of the grace periods had been due to expire at the end of March.

However, the UK has pledged to extend them until October in a move widely welcomed by businesses in Belfast, many of whom have voiced concerns over the post-Brexit arrangements.

Yet Brussels officials say the UK Government has effectively decided to impose an “open-ended extension”.

The grace periods cover areas such as supermarket supplies and parcel deliveries to Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

It means checks are not yet fully applied – but are soon due to be.

“The UK must stop acting unilaterally, and stop violating the rules it has signed up to,” an EU official told the Press Association.

“What we need in order to implement the protocol is mutual trust and this kind of unilateral action that we see from the UK does not build trust.”

The official said a “letter of formal notice” would be sent to Westminster on Monday over the alleged breaches.

Such a step would mark the beginning of the formal infringement process.

The letter asks the UK Government to carry out “swift remedial action to restore compliance with the terms of the protocol”.

EU Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic is also sending a separate “political” letter to Cabinet Office minister Lord Frost, who negotiated the Brexit deal.

The official said that the letter calls on the Government to “rectify and refrain from putting into practice” issues announced by the UK over the grace period on March 3.

It calls for discussions between both parties to find a solution to begin by the end of the month.

The EU official said: “We have not received from the UK a road map explaining what it would do in practice in order for the protocol to be applied in full.

“Yet without going through the joint bodies, unilateral measures were announced on March 3 and now the European Union is confronted with an open-ended extension to certain grace periods, at least until October 1.

“In other words, this is the second violation of international law on the same issue and we think it is an enormous problem because there are real-life issues behind all of this and the stakeholders need stability and predictably.

“The commission will send today to the UK a letter of formal notice for breaches of substantive provisions of EU law concerning the movement of goods.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the extensions are “very sensible”, with the Government denying there has been a breach of the protocol.

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