The EU threatens to sue the UK unless Boris Johnson scraps his plan to rip up the Brexit deal

  • The EU tells Boris Johnson to scrap his ban to overwrite the Brexit deal he signed last year, or face legal action.
  • If he does not, the EU will "not be shy" to use legal action, the bloc said in a statement on Thursday.
  • The UK government has admitted that its plan breaks international law.
  • European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic today told UK minister Michael Gove that the plan was an "extremely serious violation" of law and had "seriously damaged trust."
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The European Union has told Boris Johnson's UK government to scrap its plans to rewrite the Brexit withdrawal deal by the end of the month or face legal action as negotiations between the two sides move close to collapse.

UK and EU officials held emergency talks in London on Thursday afternoon after Johnson's government revealed plans to unilaterally overwrite the withdrawal treaty struck by both sides last year.

The move caused consternation in the UK and in Brussels, with members of the UK Parliament including several in Johnson's own Conservative party publicly criticising him for seeking to break international law. Brandon Lewis, the UK Secretary of State of Northern Ireland, admitted on Tuesday that the UK's plan to unilaterally implement its own rules for trade across the Irish Sea would be a "very specific but limited" breach of international law.

Following a meeting between UK minister Michael Gove and his European counterparts on Thursday, the European Commission published a strongly-worded statement describing the plan as an "extremely serious violation" of both the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement agreed last year and international law.

The European Commission's vice president Maros Sefcovic told Gove that the UK plan had "seriously damaged trust between the EU and the UK" and called on Johnson's government to bin it before the end of the month.

The EU would not be afraid to take legal action against the UK if it did not comply, Sefcovic told Gove in the meeting.

He "reminded the UK government that the Withdrawal Agreement contains a number of mechanisms and legal remedies to address violations of the legal obligations contained in the text – which the European Union will not be shy in using," the European Commission statement said.

The row revolves around the UK government's plan to disapply parts of the protocol agreed for Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland protocol agreed by the UK and EU states that the province will continue to follow the bloc's trading rules in order to avoid a controversial hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

This new arrangement will create the need for checks on goods going across the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

However, Johnson's government triggered outrage earlier this week when it announced plans to unilaterally decide itself what rules should be applied as of next year. In legislation called the Internal Markets Bill published on Wednesday, the government said it would give itself the power to waive declarations on goods going from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and refuse to apply EU state aid rules agreed as part of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Jonathan Jones quit as the head of the UK government's legal department in protest against the plan.

The UK government argues that while the plan would breach international law, it is necessary to protect the Northern Ireland peace process, also known as the Good Friday Agreement.

However, the European Commission sought to rubbish this claim on Thursday, stating: "The EU does not accept the argument that the aim of the draft Bill is to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement. In fact, it is of the view that it does the opposite."

The UK government's plans have also caused concern in the US. 

Senior Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Ways and Means committee chair Richard Neal both warned that Congress would not approve a post-Brexit free trade deal between the UK and the US if Johnson did not uphold the Withdrawal Agreement.

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