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…)

Toward a ‘Global Britain’: The post-Brexit landscape

By Dr Clair Gammage, Lecturer in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

In the Prime Minister’s speech of 17 January 2017, in which the Brexit trade negotiation strategy was announced, Theresa May was keen to reassure the world that a ‘Global Britain’ would rise from the ashes of the now infamous June referendum. Outlining twelve core objectives to be pursued in the process of withdrawal from the EU once Article 50 has been triggered, May revealed little substantive detail about what the UK wants from the EU and, indeed, from the rest of the world. Underpinning the strategy is the first objective of “certainty” – certainty for industries, for workers, and for the general population. We now know that the European Communities Act will be repealed but EU law will be translated into the UK legal system. Of course, it is then the choice of Parliament to decide which laws stay and which laws go – presumably depending on the extent to which those laws reflect our Global British values according to the legislature. Will the first objective of “certainty” allay the fears of industry, the public sector, and the general population? The answer to this question rests entirely on the way in which the negotiations are handled from this moment on. So, what does the speech tell us in terms of the post-Brexit trading strategy?

There are two key aspects of the trade strategy going forward: withdrawal from the EU and a renegotiation of our terms with the EU; and, the UK’s trading relationship vis-à-vis the rest of the world which will take the form of WTO compatible free trade agreements (FTAs). FTAs are economic spaces in which the countries to the arrangement reduce tariffs on substantially all the trade that falls under the agreement but each individual member retains its own external tariff with other countries on those goods. The first and second limbs of the trade strategy are interrelated and once Article 50 has been triggered a new form of foreign policy-making that I have (rather tongue-in-cheek) coined “Global Britain external relations law” will begin to manifest. (more…)