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…)

NHS procurement and Brexit: limited scope for no-deal preparations

By Dr Albert Sanchez-Graells, Reader in Economic Law and Member of the Centre for Health, Law, and Society (University of Bristol Law School).

As Brexit day approaches and the UK and the EU fail to complete their negotiations for a withdrawal and transition agreement to ensure an ‘orderly Brexit’, more and more voices will raise strong concerns about the impact of a no-deal Brexit for important sectors of the UK economy and public sector. In a leaked letter, the trade association of NHS providers sent a clear warning message to the public bodies in charge of running the English NHS (NHS England and NHS Improvement). As widely reported by the press, NHS providers made it clear that poor co-ordination by ministers and health service bosses means there has been a failure to prepare for the UK to be left without a Brexit deal, and that this could mean “both stockpiles and shortages of medicines and medical devices”.

NHS providers have thus requested that the Department of Health and Social Care, NHSE and NHSI accelerate preparations for a no-deal Brexit. In this post, I argue that there is very limited scope for no-deal preparations concerning medical equipment and consumables, and that this can have a very damaging impact on the running of the NHS post-Brexit, given that it annually spends approximately £6 billion on goods (such as every day hospital consumables, high cost devices, capital equipment and common goods). (more…)

UK Universities must soon comply with the EU Web Accessibility Directive

By Dr Albert Sanchez-Graells, Reader in Economic Law (University of Bristol Law School).*

In 2016, the EU adopted the Web Accessibility Directive to foster better access to the websites and mobile applications underpinning public services – in particular by people with disabilities, and especially persons with vision or hearing impairments. This Directive is meant to complement the European Accessibility Act and to implement the EU’s commitments under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Article 9 UNCRPD requires the adoption of appropriate measures to ensure equal access to information and communication technologies, including the Internet, for persons with disabilities. Under the Web Accessibility Directive, this translates into an obligation for public sector bodies to ensure that their websites and apps comply with a 2014 EU standard adapted to the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) at level AA (currently WCAG 2.0).

The Web Accessibility Directive must be transposed into UK law by 23 September 2018 and will generate obligations for new websites from 2019, for pre-existing websites from 2020, and for all public sector apps from 2021. The UK Government is currently analysing the responses to a public consultation on the draft Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 (the Web Accessibility Regulations), and the Government Digital Service is developing a host of initiatives to roll-out accessibility policies throughout the public sector. This blog post explains that UK Universities and further education institutions are covered by the Web Accessibility Directive. They must be clearly placed under the scope of application of the future Web Accessibility Regulations and be supported by the Government Digital Service and the Department for Education to ensure that their websites and apps comply with the relevant accessibility standards as soon as possible. This is not only legally mandated, but also essential to the public service mission of universities and other educational institutions. (more…)

From the “Democratic Deficit” to a “Democratic Surplus”: Constructing Administrative Democracy in Europe

By Dr Athanasios Psygkas, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol).

When academics, policymakers, media commentators, and citizens talk about a European Union (EU) “democratic deficit,” they often miss part of the story. My new book, From the “Democratic Deficit” to a “Democratic Surplus”: Constructing Administrative Democracy in Europe (Oxford University Press, 2017), challenges the conventional narrative of an EU “democratic deficit.” It argues that EU mandates have enhanced the democratic accountability of national regulatory agencies by creating entry points for stakeholder participation in national regulation. These avenues for public participation were formerly either not open or not institutionalized to this degree.

By focusing on how the EU formally adopted procedural mandates to advance the substantive goal of creating an internal market in electronic communications, I demonstrate that EU requirements have had significant implications for administrative governance in the member states. Drawing on theoretical arguments in favor of decentralization traditionally applied to substantive policy-making, the book illustrates how the decentralized EU structure may transform national regulatory authorities into individual sites of experimentation and innovation. It thus contributes to debates about federalism, governance and public policy, as well as about deliberative and participatory democracy in the United States and Europe. (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…)

New Challenges for European Comparative Law

By Dr Jule Mulder, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

Dr Jule Mulder has published an article on European comparative law methodology entitled New Challenges for European Comparative Law: The Judicial Reception of EU Non-Discrimination Law and a turn to a Multilayered Culturally-informed Comparative Law Method for a better Understanding of the EU Harmonization.[1] This article argues that comparative law needs to explore its critical potential when engaging with the European harmonization process and its effects on the law of the Member States. (more…)

Age discrimination is not in fashion: AG Bobek’s Opinion in Abercrombie & Fitch v Bordonaro

By Dr Jule Mulder, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).*

This blog post provides a case comment of AG Bobek’s Opinion C-143/16 in Abercrombie & Fitch Italia Srl v Antonino Bordonaro delivered 23 March 2017. This comment was first published on EUtopia law on April 7, 2017 and is reproduced here with thanks.

The Facts

The case is concerned with the conformity of Italian law on on-call contracts with the EU principle of non-discrimination on grounds of age. Antonino Bordonaro was employed under an on-call contract (similar to a zero-hour contract) by Abercrombie & Fitch Italia Srl on a permanent basis. Upon his 25th birthday Mr Bordonaro was dismissed due to the fact that he no longer complied with the conditions for the intermittent contract, as laid down by Article 34(2) Legislative Decree No 276/2003 applicable at the time he was hired.

The (now repealed) Italian law in question provided special arrangements regarding access to and dismissal from on-call contracts for some workers. While on-call contracts under Italian law are usually subject to objective reasons and certain conditions, the provision allowed for such contract to be offered ‘in any event’ to workers under the age of 25 or above the age of 45. At the time of Mr Bordonaro’s dismissal, Article 34(2) had been modified. The older age bracket was lifted from 45 to 55 years of age. Moreover it was specified that an on-call contract can ‘in any event’ be concluded ‘with a person under 24 years of age, on the understanding […] that the contractual service must be performed before the age of 25 is reached’. The modified provision thus allowed automatic termination of permanent on-call contracts with younger workers once they reached the age of 25, in addition to allowing more flexibility regarding younger and older workers’ exposure to on-call contracts.

Unsurprisingly, the Supreme Court of Cassation (Corte Suprema di Cassazione) identified the direct and clear reference to age in Article 34 as potentially problematic and asked the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to rule on its compatibility with the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of age in Directive 2000/78 and Article 21 of the EU Charter. (more…)