Britain has missed a deadline set by the European Union for replying to its legal notice regarding concerns about Boris Johnson’s controversial Brexit Bill.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen sent the UK a “letter of formal notification” last month after ministers rejected a demand to scrap clauses from the UK Internal Market Bill that override key elements of the Withdrawal Agreement.
The commission confirmed on Tuesday that the October 31 deadline for a response had lapsed and warned the UK the issue must be “resolved”.
Downing Street admitted it had failed to reply and expressed its desire to work through the Joint Committee to solve the dispute.
Commission spokesman Daniel Ferrie told a Brussels press briefing: “To date, I can confirm the EU has received no reply from the UK. This dispute will have to be resolved.
“We will be expecting a response from the UK and in the meantime we will be considering our next steps.”
The Government has argued the Bill – which gives ministers the power to override provisions in the Brexit divorce agreement relating to Northern Ireland – is necessary to protect the peace process if there is no agreement on a post-Brexit free trade agreement.
However the move infuriated the EU, which accused the UK of violating its treaty obligations after ministers admitted it would breach international law.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman told reporters he would “obviously not dispute” the commission’s remarks regarding the missed deadline.
Asked whether his answer signalled that there had not been a letter of reply sent, the Number 10 official said: “Indeed.”
He added: “From our point of view, I would say we are committed to working through the Joint Committee process to find a satisfactory outcome for both sides – that is our overriding priority.”
In news that could indicate a breakthrough in the cross-Channel trade talks, the commission confirmed chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier will update MEPs on the progress of the discussions this week.
Mr Barnier is currently involved in face-to-face talks with his UK counterpart Lord Frost in the Belgian capital in a bid to find agreement on the outstanding areas.
Fisheries continues to be a major obstacle to a deal and neither side would be moved on reports that an agreement on access rights to British waters is in the offing.
The Sun reported that the EU had agreed to revert to new scientific criteria that could see UK fishing quotas double, although the change would not come in for a number of years.
The UK Government and Brussels have indicated they are still a way off achieving consensus on the future of fishing, with Downing Street saying there remained “significant gaps” on the “most difficult areas” in the talks.
“We will only be able to make progress if the EU accepts the reality that the UK will have the right to control access to its waters at the end of this year,” said Mr Johnson’s spokesman.
“What we are asking for is a simple, separate fisheries framework agreement which reflects our rights in international law and provides for annual negotiations over access and sharing opportunities based on the scientific principles of zonal attachment.”
Zonal attachment works on the premise that the country or jurisdiction where fish shoals spend most of their time – a calculation based on geographic catching records – should have control over access and quota levels, a move that would benefit the UK given its rich waters.
But Mr Ferrie said the EU would not contemplate a zonal attachment solution and said the two sides had “not yet found a solution on fisheries”.
He said: “I can refer you back to the number of statements that Michel Barnier has made in the past where he said the principle of zonal attachment cannot be a basis for a new solution.
“This position has not changed, this position remains the same.”