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EU mulls strategy as Britain moves to break Brexit deal

The UK and European Union will hold emergency talks on 10 September over Prime Minister Johnson’s plan to renege on key aspects of the Brexit divorce agreement.

10 September 2020, at 12:00pm

Reuters reports that EU leaders will explore possible legal actions against London if they break the existing Brexit agreement.

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic will meet British counterpart Michael Gove in London at 1200 GMT and chief negotiators Michel Barnier and David Frost will hold trade talks.

If unhappy with what London says, the EU could use a part of the Withdrawal Agreement to take legal action against Britain, though there would be no resolution before the end-of-year deadline for Britain's full exit.

"The dispute-settling mechanism under the Withdrawal Agreement is there," an EU diplomat dealing with Brexit told Reuters.

Two other EU officials said the Commission would analyse Britain's proposed Internal Market Bill - overriding parts of the Withdrawal Agreement - once it is passed to take account of amendments before making a final decision on the legal case.

A note distributed by the EU executive to the 27 EU member states said the bloc could start so-called infringement procedures against Britain.

The British government says its planned law, put forward on Wednesday, merely clarifies ambiguities in the Withdrawal Agreement, but also says its main priority is the 1998 Northern Irish peace deal that ended decades of violence. It said the bill would be debated on Monday 14 September.

Europe's leaders have been handed an ultimatum: accept the treaty breach or prepare for a messy divorce when Britain disentangles itself from the EU at the end of the year.

Britain signed the treaty and formally left the EU in January, but remains a member in all but name until the end of 2020 under a status quo agreement.

Former British leaders Theresa May and John Major scolded Johnson for considering an explicit, intentional breach of international law.

"If we lose our reputation for honouring the promises we make, we will have lost something beyond price that may never be regained," Major said.

European diplomats said Britain was playing a game of Brexit "chicken", threatening to wreck the process and challenging Brussels to change course. Some fear Johnson may view a no-deal exit as a useful distraction from the pandemic.

"I'm not optimistic at this stage," Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin told national broadcaster RTE when asked how confident he was in a trade deal being reached. He said trust in negotiations had been undermined, making it harder to secure a free trade agreement without tariffs and quotas.

Read the full story on Reuters.