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…)

Retained EU law in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill: A Reaction to the House of Lords Constitution Committee Report

By Prof Michael Ford QC, Professor of Law, and Prof Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law (University of Bristol Law School).*

On 29 January the House of Lords Constitution Committee delivered a withering assessment of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, describing it as ‘fundamentally flawed from a constitutional perspective in multiple ways’. Alongside trenchant criticisms of the delegated powers in the Bill, and the effects for the devolution settlement, the Committee’s Report focuses on the definition and status of ‘retained EU law’.

The aim of this short post is to explore some of the implications of the Committee’s approach to this vexed question. If, as the Committee recommends, ‘retained EU law’ is defined narrowly, it will have the virtue of restricting the scope of the Henry VIII Henpowers in clause 7, which only apply  to operational problems and deficiencies in relation to ‘retained EU law’. But a narrow definition gives rise to problems elsewhere. ‘Retained EU law’ is also the definition used for the purpose of the continuing application of existing CJEU case law and retained general principles of EU law under clause 6. Questions as to the validity, meaning and effect of pre-Brexit UK law which is not ‘retained EU law’ are therefore excluded from these interpretative provisions. In the Bill as worded, it is not clear if this difficulty is resolved by the operation of the principle of supremacy of EU law referred to in clause 5, the meaning and effect of which is very opaque. The Committee recommends that the principle of the supremacy of EU law be abandoned altogether; but if its approach were to be followed, there would be no EU principles which would apply to any law currently in the field of EU law which is not ‘retained EU law’. The implications are assessed by reference to the Equality Act 2010 (EqA). (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…)

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…)