EU will use trade tools on UK if needed

"Let me be clear: we do not want to have to use these tools. But we will not hesitate to use them if necessary," she told the European Parliament at the start of its final debate on the trade and cooperation agreement between the European Union and Britain, ahead of a vote that is expected to give the accord overwhelming approval.

There had been some doubt the vote would go ahead as parliament protested against British changes to trading arrangements in Northern Ireland, a unilateral move that prompted Brussels to launch legal action.

"I share the concerns you have on unilateral actions taken by the United Kingdom since the agreement came into provisional application," von der Leyen told EU lawmakers.

But she said there had been a more constructive tone in talks between the EU and its former member over Britain's decision to extend a grace period on certain checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland.

The move is seen by Brussels as a breach of the Brexit divorce deal known as the Withdrawal Agreement and the specific protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.