Tag Archives: Phil Syrpis

The Irish conundrum exposes the harsh realities of Brexit

By Prof Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law (University of Bristol Law School).

On Monday 4 December 2017, we reached what may prove to be a key staging post on the long, and winding, road which may or may not be leading us towards Brexit. Progress to phase 2 of the withdrawal negotiations, in which the UK and EU will be able to begin to discuss their future relationship, is, as stipulated by the EU and agreed by the UK Government, dependent on ‘sufficient progress’ in relation to the divorce bill, citizens’ rights, and Ireland. The clock towards March 2019 is ticking.

By Monday morning, it appeared that a methodology for calculating the divorce bill had been agreed, and that sufficient guarantees relating to the protection of citizens’ rights had been offered (though it should be noted that various difficult issues, including in relation to the future role of the CJEU, appear to have been left to phase 2). It was also reported that an agreement had been reached that there was ‘to be no divergence from those rules of the internal market and the customs union, which now or in the future, support North South cooperation and the future of the Good Friday Agreement’, a form of words which appears to have been agreed in Brussels, Dublin and London. Reading that, it is not clear whether the leaked agreement contemplated harmonisation between the EU (including Ireland) and Northern Ireland specifically; or between the EU (including Ireland) and the UK as a whole.

Enter the DUP. Arlene Foster made it clear that the DUP would not accept ‘any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom’. Suddenly, the deal was off. Had the UK been agreeing to a lack of divergence between Ireland and the UK as a whole, the DUP’s concern would not have resonated. It is only possible to conclude that, in order to allow the withdrawal negotiations to move forward, the UK Government was contemplating a regime in which divergence within the island of Ireland was to be managed, while the rest of the UK retained the freedom to distance itself more sharply from EU (including Irish) rules. A chorus of voices, from Scotland, Wales and London (and also, I believe, Grimsby), predictably rose to demand an equivalent right to similar special treatment, seeking to protect their own special relationships with the EU. We wait to see how the Government will react.

This short contribution aims to illustrate that there are now hard questions for the Government to confront. If Ireland is in the single market and customs union and Northern Ireland is not, there will need to be a border on the island of Ireland, and, as Anand Menon wrote yesterday, any increase in regulatory divergence in Ireland would impact significantly on people’s lives there (he references health care, agriculture, transport, and energy). If the island of Ireland is to remain in the single market and customs union (or, and I will come back to this shortly, be the subject of an equivalent arrangement ensuring continued regulatory alignment) and the rest of the UK is not, there will need to be a border across the Irish Sea. Continue reading

A call to stop Brexit

By Prof Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law (University of Bristol Law School).

Increasing frustration with the Brexit process has prompted me to write this. I have tried to keep it short. My main argument is that the perceived obligation to implement ‘the will of the people’, felt by a large majority of politicians on both sides of the House, is creating a political, legal, social and economic crisis in the UK.

The time has come to demand that Brexit be stopped. A transition period, in which EU law rights and obligations are maintained for a time, now seems inevitable. Opinion in the country seems, slowly, to be beginning to shift. The sunlit uplands, as we are reminded on all almost daily basis, are no more than an illusion. Policy makers are seeking to find second-best solutions, and engaging in attempts to salvage what they can from existing arrangements (which work, at least tolerably, well). Unless advocates of the Brexit cause can point to political, social and economic benefits associated with Brexit, and unless they can demonstrate, in concrete terms, how these benefits are to be realised – and thus far, they have singularly failed to do so – we should not be prepared to allow them to indulge in their reckless fantasy. Continue reading

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: Paving the way towards a very uncertain future

By Prof Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law (University of Bristol Law School).

The stated aim of the, then Great, Repeal Bill was to provide clarity and certainty for citizens and businesses, and to ensure a functioning statute book on exit from the EU. The key statement of principle in the White Paper was as follows: ‘In order to achieve a stable and smooth transition, the Government’s overall approach is to convert the body of existing EU law into domestic law, after which Parliament (and, where appropriate, the devolved legislatures) will be able to decide which elements of that law to keep, amend or repeal once we have left the EU. This ensures that, as a general rule, the same rules and laws will apply after we leave the EU as they did before’ (for analysis, see here).

However, the continuity provided by what is now the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, published last week, must be seen in the context of the reality that leaving the EU will also require major constitutional and policy changes in a relatively short, and currently uncertain, time frame (see here). After all, the Government’s aim is that, as a result of Brexit, the UK will be able to decide which parts of EU-derived law to keep, and which to amend or repeal. A number of Brexit Bills, which will change the law in relation to, among others, immigration, trade, customs, agriculture and fisheries, were promised in the Queen’s speech. The clarity and certainty promised in the White Paper, which at first glance appear to provide comfort to citizens and businesses concerned over the effects of Brexit, are more elusive than ever. Continue reading

The phoney war is over. Theresa May has triggered Article 50. The clock is ticking. But clarity and legal certainty remain elusive

By Prof Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law (University of Bristol Law School)

In her letter to Donald Tusk the Prime Minister outlined the UK’s starting position in negotiations with the EU. The EU Council of Ministers responded by producing draft negotiating guidelines (to be confirmed by the European Council at the end of April). These guidelines create the framework within which negotiations on withdrawal, and those on the future relationship between the UK and the EU, will occur. Meanwhile, a White Paper on the Great Repeal Bill was presented to Parliament, promising on the one hand to repeal the European Communities Act (ECA) and end the supremacy of EU law in the UK, and on the other to convert the acquis communautaire into UK law, so that ‘EU-derived rights’ (as we will need to get used to calling them) will, as far as possible, be unaffected.

The opening exchanges between the UK and EU have generated a lot of comment. Much of it has focused on the unlikely subject of Gibraltar (Michael Howard’s crass evocation of the Falklands conflict will have done nothing to lower simmering tensions). In relation to the White Paper, most attention has been devoted to the role of Parliament and the devolved assemblies. Rather less attention has been paid to many of the EU law aspects. In this short note, I focus on those. I first consider what new light has been shed on the way in which the Article 50 negotiations will proceed, drawing attention to the host of issues which remain unanswered. I then consider the EU law questions raised by the repeal of the ECA, and the conversion of the acquis into UK law. Michael Ford has already commented on this blog on the applicability of judgments of the European Court of Justice in the post-Brexit era; so there is no more on that subject here.

My overarching concern is that the Government, in particular in the White Paper, has failed to provide a clear sense of the size of the task which lies ahead. It is impossible to know whether this is because the Government itself does not appreciate the magnitude of the challenge, or because it is trying to conceal the difficulties. The Government has, for months, struggled to articulate just what Brexit might mean, and has made a series of disparate promises which a range of different constituencies have, if so minded, been able to rely on, or cling to. It will now start making hard choices. It has not prepared the ground well. Continue reading

Law and Politics in the Supreme Court

By Prof Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law (University of Bristol Law School).

By a majority of 8 to 3, the Supreme Court held that in light of the terms and effect of the European Communities Act 1972, ‘the prerogative could not be invoked by ministers to justify giving Notice under Article 50… Ministers require the authority of primary legislation before they can take that course’ (para. 101). Within hours, the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill,[1]  authorising the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50, was published. It passed through the House of Commons unscathed yesterday. A White Paper, setting out the Government’s plan for Brexit, such as it is, has also been published.[2]

The purpose of this post is very specific. My aim is not to analyse the judgment, the Bill or the White Paper. That has been done elsewhere. Instead, my aim is to begin to explore the relationship between law and politics, and between Parliament, the executive and the judiciary, taking as a starting point the judgments in the Supreme Court. The judges are, at times, careful not to trespass into the political realm. Nevertheless, their findings are informed and influenced, in a number of ways, by the political context. There are, moreover, important differences between the approaches adopted by the majority and the minority, including differences relating to the judges’ understanding of the legal process of Brexit.

It is hoped that inconsistencies between and within the judgments will provoke further academic consideration of the extent to which Courts should intrude into, or take cognisance of, the political realm; and of the extent to which constitutional safeguards are matters of substance or form. But, at this febrile political time, the clearest conclusion is that by failing to answer key questions of law, the Court has done a disservice to Parliament, thereby contributing, not towards the provision of a clear framework within which politicians are able to address the realities of Brexit, but to the pervasive sense of confusion. Continue reading

Miller: Why the Government should argue that Article 50 is reversible

By Prof Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law (University of Bristol Law School).

© PA

© PA

Last week’s judgment in the High Court is a ringing endorsement of the sovereignty of Parliament. It asserts that ‘Parliament can, by enactment of primary legislation, change the law of the land in any way it chooses’ (at [20]). It explains why the ‘subordination of the Crown (ie executive government) to law is the foundation of the rule of law in the United Kingdom’ (at [26]), including references to the bedrock of the UK’s Constitution, the Glorious Revolution, the Bill of Rights, and constitutional jurist AV Dicey’s An Introduction to the Law of the Constitution. The Crown has broad powers on the international plane, for example to make and unmake treaties, but as a matter of English law, these powers reach their limits where domestic law rights are affected. EU law, by virtue of the European Communities Act 1972 (described again as a constitutional statute), does indeed have direct effect in domestic law. As a result of the fact that the decision to withdraw from the European Union would have a direct bearing on various categories of rights outlined in the judgment (at [57]-[61]), the Crown cannot, without the approval of Parliament, give notice under Article 50.  Continue reading

The law and politics of withdrawal from the EU

By Dr Phil Syrpis, Reader in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

© Alamy / Guardian

© Alamy / Guardian

On Thursday June 23, the people had their say. Over 17 million Britons voted to leave the EU. The outcome was clear, and should be respected.

Nevertheless, the future is shrouded in uncertainty. Months of campaigning failed to produce good answers to what have become urgent questions. The uncertainty relates both to the mechanism of withdrawal, and to the terms of any withdrawal agreement and future trade agreement with the EU.  As no Member State has ever withdrawn from the EU, there are no relevant precedents. This is uncharted territory; these are interesting times. Continue reading

Let’s Take Back Control – Or Should We?

By Dr Phil Syrpis, Reader in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

John-WhittingdaleThe EU referendum campaign has been wide-ranging; with the debate largely focusing on the economic aspects. Arguments which focus on democracy have, however, tended to be the preserve of the leave campaign. The rallying cry to ‘take back control’ of ‘our’ laws and borders, has become something of a mantra.

My aim here is to assess the leave campaign’s case. I consider the impact which the EU has on the freedom of movement of the UK government; and evaluate the extent to which continued membership of the EU represents a threat to democracy in the UK. Continue reading

The Legal Status of the Agreement of the Heads of State or Government (re Brexit)

By Dr Phil Syrpis, Reader in Law (University of Bristol Law School)

© http://arthur.co.uk/

© http://arthur.co.uk/

On 19 February 2016, sometime well after breakfast, the members of the European Council reached an agreement concerning a new settlement for the United Kingdom within the EU. The Government was quick to proclaim that the UK’s ‘special status’ in ‘a reformed European Union’ amounts to ‘the best of both worlds’. David Cameron’s ‘hard-headed assessment’ is that the UK will be stronger, safer and better off by remaining inside this reformed European Union, and so he is recommending that the British people vote to ‘remain’ in the in-out referendum on 23 June.

The substance of the reforms, which focus on economic governance, competitiveness, sovereignty, and welfare and free movement, is and will continue to be much debated. This contribution instead focuses on a more technical question – the legal status of the deal – a subject which is now said to be creating ‘open warfare’ in the Tory party. Continue reading