LONDON — The U.K. government is refusing to respond to an EU disciplinary procedure over London’s refusal to nominate an EU commissioner.
The European Commission had set a deadline of Friday midnight for the British government to respond to the so-called infringement procedure, in which the U.K. is accused of violating EU law by refusing to put forward a nominee.
London had agreed to name a commissioner as part of a deal with the EU27 that extended the Brexit deadline to January 31 from October 31, but No. 10 has refused to do so, citing legal guidance that no international appointments should be made during a general election campaign.
Normally, EU countries are given two months to respond to an infringement process in which they are accused of legal violations, but the Commission set a short one-week deadline citing the urgent need for President-elect Ursula von der Leyen and her team to take office.
The Commission has no expectation that the infringement procedure would force Prime Minister Boris Johnson to make a nomination, but was acting for legal purposes to make clear that it has taken all possible steps to force London to comply with the law — and thereby avoid any challenges to the legitimacy of the new College of Commissioners set to take office on December 1.
The European Parliament is now scheduled to vote Wednesday to confirm the new Commission, without the British commissioner, at a plenary session in Strasbourg.
On a practical level, officials in Brussels and London expect that the national election results in the U.K. will determine if a British commissioner is ever nominated. Should Johnson and his Conservative Party win the election, and succeed in winning ratification of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, there would be no need for a U.K. commissioner.
But London’s refusal to live up to the terms of the deadline-extension agreement could have longer term consequences.
Even if the U.K. manages to leave the EU on January 31, there is broad expectation that No. 10 will be forced to request an extension of the Brexit transition period currently due to end on December 31, 2020, because it is unlikely that a new free trade deal will have been agreed by then. Extending the transition period will require substantial negotiation over terms of the U.K. remaining inside the EU’s single market, including how much the U.K. will have to pay into the EU budget, and potentially other conditions.
And the refusal to nominate a commissioner could give ammunition to EU27 leaders who might oppose extending the transition, allowing them to argue that London cannot be trusted to comply with whatever terms might be agreed.
Infringement procedures typically entail an extensive, bureaucratic back-and-forth between Brussels and the member country accused of wrongdoing and can take years to resolve, potentially leading to court action. The EU is expected to continue following the usual steps, regardless of London’s unwillingness to respond.