Germany told European Union nations that relations between the UK and the bloc reached a new low and they should be ready for a serious fight if London enacts the bill it proposed to tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The comments, which came in a closed-door meeting with EU ambassadors, made clear that Berlin’s patience with the UK is wearing thin, according to people familiar withe matter.
The bloc reaffirmed its approach of reacting to the UK bill firmly, including by restarting legal action against London, while leaving room for a negotiation solution. But France, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, also told diplomats that the bloc should be ready to use all the available tools in the trade agreement between the two sides.
The legislation proposed by Boris Johnson would give British ministers the power to unilaterally rewrite the bulk of the Northern Ireland protocol, which keeps the area in the EU’s single market while creating a customs border with the rest of the UK.
The UK said its move was allowed under international law, arguing there were no other ways to address disruptions to trade, but EU lawyers have rejected that assertion. They told ambassadors that the UK’s legal explanation didn’t meet either of the conditions under international law that would allow London to tear up a treaty—that it’s the only way for the UK to protect against an imminent threat and that it wouldn’t harm the EU, the people said.
Germany’s strong remarks echoed the hard line that Chancellor Olaf Scholz took in a news conference on Monday after the bill was introduced. He called the Brexit bill “very regrettable” and said the step marked a renunciation of all the agreements reached between the EU and Britain.
Asked whether the European Commission should mull higher tariffs on British imports as a response to the provocation, Scholz said the EU would respond in unity and should look at all the instruments at its disposal.
German officials declined to comment on the closed-door remarks.