Parliamentary Sovereignty: Brexit and Schrödinger’s cat

By Marc Johnson, Lecturer in Law (Truman Boddon Law School)

Photo: Flickr

Brexit has been a source of emotionally-charged debate. One point which has received plenty of attention is the sovereignty of Parliament and its relationship with EU membership. It is often explained that the EU’s ability to make laws (which can apply in the UK) is some form of forfeiture of sovereignty. However, this statement has a number of shortcomings, not least that it ignores the election of Members of the European Parliament by the UK, providing (at least to some degree) a democratic mandate to the European Parliament. I will use Schrödinger’s cat to suggest that sovereignty can be present in multiple places and remain intact, allowing the normal operation of both the UK Parliament and European Parliament, without offending a nuanced view of sovereignty. In order to do this, one must cast aside the orthodox views of sovereignty and start with a pragmatic and philosophical approach to Parliamentary Sovereignty as it today. Brexit is akin to lifting the lid of Schrödinger’s box to observe the actual state of sovereignty at a specific point in time, but in doing so it reduces the observers to that of a quantitative measurer, and asks ‘is it dead or alive’ – when, in fact, reality is far more complex than this. (more…)

A call for the revocation of Article 50

By Prof Phil Syrpis (University of Bristol Law School)

Photo from Flickr

Whisper it gently, but a solution to the Brexit riddle seems to be coming into view. Westminster has yet to see it, but it will not be long now (famous last words…) before the reality, finally, becomes impossible to avoid. March 2019 will be upon us very soon. Unless *something* is agreed the UK will leave the EU on 29 March with no deal.

Developments in the EU

While the attention of the nation is focused on Westminster, and in particular on the travails of Prime Minister Theresa May – who on 12 December survived a no confidence from her own MPs by an uncomfortable margin of 200 to 117 – the most important developments have come from the European Union; the ruling of the European Court of Justice on the revocability of Article 50, and the EU’s ever clearer political statements that it will not countenance renegotiation.

First, on Monday, came the judgment of the CJEU in the Wightman case. The CJEU ruled on the unilateral revocability of Article 50. In a judgment which emphasised the sovereignty of the withdrawing Member State, and its ability to decide whether its destiny lies within or outside the EU, the Court held that unilateral revocation is possible ‘in an unconditional and unequivocal manner, by a notice addressed to the European Council in writing, after the Member State concerned has taken the revocation decision in accordance with its constitutional requirements’. It confirmed that ‘the purpose of that revocation is to confirm the EU membership of the Member State concerned under terms that are unchanged as regards its status as a Member State’. For fuller analysis of the judgment, see here, and, with added Taylor Swift, here. (more…)

Why the Draft Agreement on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU should satisfy neither Leavers nor Remainers

By Dr Clair Gammage and Prof Phil Syrpis (University of Bristol Law School)

Introduction

The 585-page Draft Agreement on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU (“the Withdrawal Agreement”), agreed on 14 November, paves the way for the UK’s departure from the EU on 20 March 2019. The Withdrawal Agreement and the associated Political Declaration on the Future UK-EU Relationship, agreed earlier today, represent the culmination of the Article 50 negotiations between the UK and the EU. The Withdrawal Agreement includes provisions on citizens’ rights (Part Two), provisions governing separation (Part Three), provisions on the transition or implementation period (Part Four), financial provisions (i.e. the divorce bill) (Part Five), and institutional provisions, including a dispute settlement system under a newly-created Joint Committee (Part Six); together with Protocols on Ireland, Cyprus and Gibraltar. For a comprehensive analysis of the Agreement as a whole, see Steve Peers’ analysis, here.

Our intention here is not to engage with the unfolding political drama, but rather to analyse some of the key legal provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement, which explain the way in which the withdrawal process will operate. We begin with a couple of caveats. First, the Withdrawal Agreement is a long document, and we have had only a week to read and think about it. It is not easy to work out how the various parts of the Agreement and the Political Declaration are intended to fit together. Second, this post only purports to provide a broad-brush legal analysis of the Withdrawal Agreement; there are deeper complexities lurking within many of its provisions. We have chosen to focus on those areas in which we have the greatest expertise. Our hope is that this post will provoke a reaction among those keen to participate in both legal, and more political, discussion of the Withdrawal Agreement, and that it will help to generate greater understanding of the proposed terms of the UK’s exit from the EU.

On the basis of our analysis of the deal, we conclude that it should be rejected. It is a better outcome than ‘no deal’. But, it is significantly worse than the status quo. There are significant reasons why not only Brexiters but also remainers should be concerned. (more…)

Why the People’s Vote is not ‘the answer’

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

Photo: Nadja von Massow, People’s Vote March, London 23 June 2018.

Momentum seems to be building for a people’s vote. I argue here that there are a number of legal and political issues which need to be addressed before it is possible to decide whether a people’s vote is indeed ‘the answer’ to the mad Brexit riddle. My conclusion is that it is not.

The most common plea is for a people’s vote ‘on the final Brexit deal negotiated by the UK Government’. But, there are also calls for a people’s vote ‘if the Brexit deal is rejected by Parliament’. Scratch a little below the surface, and it becomes apparent that many of those who are now calling for a people’s vote are either uncertain, or perhaps deliberately vague, about the circumstances in which a people’s vote should be held. They are also uncertain, or again perhaps deliberately vague, about the nature of the question to be put to the people, the timing of the people’s vote, and indeed the consequences which should flow from such a vote. There are, as the Leave campaign should be able to testify, pros and cons for campaign groups who take this sort of stance. A vague plan might elicit support from a wide range of people. But then, it might turn out not to be able to deliver that which people were hoping for.

Calls for a people’s vote come from a variety of sources. The most enthusiastic voices are the ‘remainers’. They tend to see a people’s vote as an opportunity – perhaps the last opportunity – to stop Brexit, and to enable the public to vote not, as in June 2016, on the abstract idea of leave, but instead on the Government’s concrete Brexit plans. They are confident that while there was a small majority for Brexit in 2016, there would not, given what we now know, be a majority for any of the Government’s possible plans, or indeed for a ‘no deal’ Brexit. Recent polls support their claim. They have been joined by a number of other groups, who argue that there is a tactical political advantage to be gained (for the Government and the Labour Party) in backing a people’s vote. (more…)

Brexit – What are the options for the UK now?

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

In the light of the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson, it is time to reexamine the state of play in the Brexit negotiations. In this post, I seek to identify the various possible outcomes, and to provide some comments on the political ramifications of each.

The list of possible outcomes is almost as long as it was in March 2017, when Article 50 was triggered. That in itself is a cause of huge concern. What is also worrying, is that there does not appear to be a clear path to any of the possible outcomes.   (more…)

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. (more…)

Researching European Union Tort Law in the Era of Brexit

By Prof Paula Giliker, Professor of Comparative Law (University of Bristol Law School).

October 2017 marked the publication of the Edward Elgar Research Handbook on EU Tort Law. This is part of the series of Research Handbooks in European Law published by leading Law publishing house, Edward Elgar, which offer authoritative reference points for academics, students, and practitioners studying or working in EU law, private law and comparative law. The aim is to be comprehensive and informative, but also accessible for those approaching the subject for the first time.

The Research Handbook on EU Tort Law is edited by University of Bristol Professor of Comparative Law, Paula Giliker, but also contains contributions from other Bristol academic staff including Dr Jule Mulder, Dr Albert Sanchez-Graells and Professor Keith Stanton, together with 14 other contributions ranging from the UK and Ireland to France, Germany, the Netherlands and Hungary. This truly international project seeks to examine the extent to which EU-sourced law (directives, judicial decisions, regulations, Treaty provisions) have created new rights in the law of tort on which claimants can rely in either the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) or national courts.

The variety of areas of law in which EU-sourced tort law can be found is striking, as highlighted in Giliker’s introductory chapter, ‘What do we mean by “EU tort law”?’ Contributors discuss actions in the CJEU (Gutman), State liability for breach of EU law (Granger), product liability (White), competition law (Odudu and Sanchez-Graells), data protection law (Stauch), employment law (Mulder), insurance law (Davey), financial services law (Stanton) and the law relating to unfair commercial practices (Riefa and Saintier). Further contributions examine what we mean by compensatory remedies in EU law (Leczykiewicz), whether we can identify a culture of EU tort law (Niglia and Knetsch) and the possibility of harmonising European tort law more generally (Martin-Casals, Blackie and Faure). Finally, Giliker examines the future of EU tort law, both as a substantive area of law and as a concept in need of clarification and further academic debate. (more…)

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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. (more…)