European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said Brussels would “not be shy” in taking action to ensure that the UK abides by its international commitments. The warning comes after it was reported that the UK Government is unilaterally considering extending a “grace period” to allow Northern Irish shops to continue selling chilled meats – including sausages and mince – from Britain once the Brexit Northern Ireland protocol expires at the end of June.
The EU has five different retaliatory routes it could take to punish the UK should Boris Johnson decide to make the move.
The most severe punishment the bloc could choose would be to hit the UK with legal proceedings and harsh tariffs.
The procedure would see the UK being given a two-month ultimatum by the EU under the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to withdraw the border check postponement.
If the UK failed to comply, the case would go before the European Court of Justice. If the ECJ ruled in favour of the EU and the UK still failed to comply with the ruling, Brussels could impose hefty tariffs on UK exports.
Such tariffs, also called “cross-sector retaliation,” could apply “to all areas” of the economic part of the post-Brexit trade deal, a Commission factsheet says.
Anton Spisak from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, told Politico that another way Brussels could retaliate against the UK would be to go after its financial and tech sectors.
Mr Spisak said that it would be “easier for the EU to retaliate in those areas where it can control the outcome”.
On tech rules, Brussels has already granted preliminary adequacy for data flows between the bloc and the UK, but the deal still requires the approval of national capitals who could pull the plug at the last minute.
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But the UK’s access to such projects could be jeopardised if relations between the UK and the bloc continue to deteriorate.
Finally, the most unlikely retaliating measures the bloc could consider against the UK would be to block energy markets by delaying talks with the UK on post-Brexit energy trade.
Britain has already angered Brussels by unilaterally extending grace periods in the protocol on supermarket goods and parcels.
Ahead of talks on Wednesday with the Brexit minister Lord Frost to discuss the implementation of the protocol, Mr Sefcovic said the Commission would not tolerate further failures of compliance by London.
He said: “Unfortunately, we see numerous and fundamental gaps in the UK’s implementation – even though the protocol entered into force over 17 months ago.
“Mutually agreed compliance paths, with concrete deadlines and milestones for the UK to fulfil its existing obligations, would therefore be an important stepping stone – and, I believe, a credible outcome of this joint committee.
“If this does not happen, and if the UK takes further unilateral action over the coming weeks, the EU will not be shy in reacting swiftly, firmly and resolutely to ensure that the UK abides by its international law obligations.”
Mr Sefcovic said the protocol was the “best solution” to ensure there was no return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, adding: “No-one knows it better than Lord Frost himself, then the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator.”