By Karim El-Bar
LONDON (AA) - The EU doubled down on Monday on its threat to initiate legal proceedings against Britain over the UK Internal Market Bill, that the British government admits breaks international law by unilaterally overriding parts of the UK's Withdrawal Agreement with the EU.
European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said: "We maintain that the bill, if adopted in its current form, would constitute an extremely serious violation of the [Northern Ireland] protocol as an essential part of the withdrawal agreement and of international law. The withdrawal agreement is to be implemented, not to be renegotiated, let alone unilaterally changed, disregarded or disapplied."
Sefcovic spoke in Brussels after a meeting of the joint committee, which is in charge of implementing the withdrawal agreement.
Earlier this month, he suggested that if the problematic clauses of the UK Internal Market Bill were not removed by the end of the month on Wednesday, the EU would initiate legal action.
"Once again, I reminded the UK government today that the Withdrawal Agreement contains a number of mechanisms and legal remedies to address the violation of the legal obligations contained in the text. And I underscored that the EU will not be shy in using it,
"When we will do it, how we will do it [...] you will have to give us a little bit of time and we will inform you in due course," Sefcovic said.
He did, however, suggest that negotiations on the implementation of the withdrawal agreement would go ahead even if the UK did not abandon the bill.
Jennifer Rankin, the Guardian's Brussels correspondent, said on Twitter that though Sefcovic did not specify how the passage of the Internal Market Bill would affect talks on trade and security, other sources in the EU, including diplomats and officials, said there would be "no way that as long as this threat is pending that we agree to that finalised deal."
Earlier in the day, Ireland's Taoiseach Micheal Martin said he was not optimistic that the UK and EU would be able to hammer out a deal.
Speaking to British daily iNews, he was asked about the prospects of a trade deal between the two sides.
"I'm not that optimistic, if I'm honest. Just to let you know that the [Irish] government is preparing its budget in three weeks' time on the basis that there will be a no-deal Brexit," he said.
"That's the basis on which we're preparing the budget and we're warning and alerting businesses to that terrible reality," he said.
"I think progress has been slow in the talks so far, I think there is still potential for a deal, I believe a deal is the sane and sensible thing to do, and I think all of us as politicians have an obligation to those we represent -- and in terms of Brexit that means the least damage possible to workers, to employers and to business and economy."