Why a no-deal Brexit on 29 March is unconstitutional, not the “legal default”

By Rose Slowe LLM, Honorary Research Fellow, University of Bristol Law School. Author on EU Law and Barrister at Foundry Chambers.

Leaving the EU without a deal on 29 March 2019 is not the “legal default”, as has been repeatedly, but wrongly, asserted. It would, in fact, be in violation of the supreme law at both the domestic and supranational level, namely the UK constitution and EU Treaties (or more broadly, the General Principles of Community Law which includes ECJ jurisprudence alongside the Treaties). As such, without an Act of Parliament authorising Brexit in whatever form, the legal default is that the Article 50 notice issued will lapse, if not unilaterally revoked.

Article 50(1) of the Treaty on European Union (‘TEU’) provides that a Member State may decide to withdraw from the EU in accordance with ‘its own constitutional requirements’. The Supreme Court, the highest judicial authority responsible for interpreting our unwritten constitution, confirmed in R (on the application of Miller and another) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [2017] UKSC 5, that, as a matter of UK constitutional law, only an Act of Parliament can authorise, and give effect to, changes in domestic law and existing legal rights. The Miller litigation, while lacking in a critical respect, as discussed elsewhere, was an essential source of legal certainty in terms of our constitutional requirements and, specifically, the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty as it pertains to Brexit; judicial clarification at the highest level of legal authority. Of significance, the majority held that the European Communities Act 1972 has rendered EU law a source of domestic law and, now that it has acquired that status, removing it, wholly or in part, is a matter on which Parliament has to legislate. (more…)

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…)

The dualist system of the English Constitution and the Victorian acquis

By Dr Eirik Bjorge, Senior Lecturer in Public International Law (University of Bristol Law School).*

The Supreme Court in Miller set out the model that ‘the dualist system is a necessary corollary of Parliamentary sovereignty’ (para 57), or in the words of Campbell McLachlan in his admirable Foreign Relations Law, cited by the Supreme Court:

If treaties have no effect within domestic law, Parliament’s legislative supremacy within its own polity is secure. If the executive must always seek the sanction of Parliament in the event that a proposed action on the international plane will require domestic implementation, parliamentary sovereignty is reinforced at the very point at which the legislative power is engaged (para 5.20).

As the Court said, this passage ‘neatly summarises’ the position: but, beyond the neatness of summarization, does it correctly capture the constitutional position? (more…)