The European Union is expected to begin legal action against the UK despite the Government’s insistence its plan to unilaterally override parts of the Brexit deal in Northern Ireland do not break international law.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will on Monday publish long-awaited legislation to cut trade checks mandated by the Northern Ireland protocol Brexit deal agreed by Boris Johnson less than three years ago.
It will be accompanied by a legal statement from Attorney General Suella Braverman, which is expected to argue that the plans do not breach international law.
But the EU is expected to immediately signal that it is preparing to launch legal action, before setting out more details of how it will proceed later in the week, i understands.
Any action from the EU could mirror the approach it took on the Government’s Internal Market Bill, when Brussels launched so-called “infringement proceedings”.
This approach could result in hefty fines being imposed on the UK by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), although the process can take years before a resolution. The EU is also likely to hold the threat of a full-blown trade war in reserve if the plans ever becoming formally adopted in UK law.
Ms Truss’s Bill will seek to dramatically reduce checks on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which are fiercely opposed by unionists in Northern Ireland who argue the Protocol undermines the province’s place in the UK.
But it will allow a continuing role for the ECJ in ruling on matters of EU law relating to the Protocol, after a tougher draft version stripping out the court’s role completely was ditched amid a Cabinet spat.
Ms Truss is facing accusations of trying to burnish her leadership credentials among hardline Brexiteers after presenting the tougher version of the Bill to a key Cabinet committee last week, having shared drafts with the hardline Tory European Research Group (ERG) on the plans.
She was eventually overruled by the Prime Minister in last week’s Global Britain (Strategy) Cabinet committee, who decided to allow a continuing but limited role for the ECJ.
Ms Truss’s allies reject the suggestion that she was pandering to the ERG, stressing that the Foreign Secretary consulted MPs from across the party, including One Nation Tories.
But a Whitehall source said of Ms Truss: “This is a very sensitive matter, all ministers want to get this to work, so I find it strange that certain people seem to be trying to portray themselves as especially Brexity for reasons that can only be self serving.”
Ministers hope the legislation will be welcomed by the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which has blocked the formation of a new power-sharing government at Stormont in protest at the Protocol.
The DUP and other Northern Irish parties have been invited to technical briefings on Monday morning to lalow officials to talk them through the plans.
The party was urged by a Government source to “show some good faith” and show they are open to rejoining Stormont institutions.
If the DUP responds positively, the first Commons vote on the legislation could follow next week.
Several Tories have expressed concerns about the plans, with rebels sharing a briefing document – leaked to PoliticsHome on Sunday – claiming the Bill is “damaging to everything the UK and Conservatives stand for” and “breaks international law”.
But Ms Truss was said to be “cautiously optimistic” that the laws have enough support to get through the Commons.
Ministers urged to publish legal advice
Ministers are being urged to publish in full their legal advice around controversial laws to override parts of the Brexit deal in Northern Ireland to back their insistence that the plans are legal under international law.
Attorney General Suella Braverman is set to publish a statement alongside the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill arguing that the legislation is legal.
But the full legal advice will not be published, despite reports that senior Government lawyer Sir James Eadie was not asked to give his opinion on whether the plans breach international law.
In correspondence, Sir James nevertheless said it would be “very difficult” for the UK to argue it is not “breaching international law”, according to Sky News.
Questions are also likely to be raised about the reported involvement of academic lawyer Thomas D. Grant, who worked in the US State Department under Donald Trump and once argued for a hard Brexit, in advising the Government on the plans.
Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Kyle said: said: “This Bill could have an elevated impact on Britain’s relationship with global partners, and has potential for malicious and rogue governments to interpret it as a green light for unilateral action against international treaties to which they are bound.
“Given this, it is incumbent on ministers to release the maximum possible legal advice from the start, so the legal basis upon which they make their case to parliament can be judged.”