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  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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
In her letter to Donald Tusk the Prime Minister outlined the UK’s starting position in negotiations with the EU. The EU Council of Ministers responded by producing draft negotiating guidelines (to be confirmed by the European Council at the end of April). These guidelines create the framework within which negotiations on withdrawal, and those on the future relationship between the UK and the EU, will occur. Meanwhile, a White Paper on the Great Repeal Bill was presented to Parliament, promising on the one hand to repeal the European Communities Act (ECA) and end the supremacy of EU law in the UK, and on the other to convert the acquis communautaire into UK law, so that ‘EU-derived rights’ (as we will need to get used to calling them) will, as far as possible, be unaffected.
The opening exchanges between the UK and EU have generated a lot of comment. Much of it has focused on the unlikely subject of Gibraltar (Michael Howard’s crass evocation of the Falklands conflict will have done nothing to lower simmering tensions). In relation to the White Paper, most attention has been devoted to the role of Parliament and the devolved assemblies. Rather less attention has been paid to many of the EU law aspects. In this short note, I focus on those. I first consider what new light has been shed on the way in which the Article 50 negotiations will proceed, drawing attention to the host of issues which remain unanswered. I then consider the EU law questions raised by the repeal of the ECA, and the conversion of the acquis into UK law. Michael Ford has already commented on this blog on the applicability of judgments of the European Court of Justice in the post-Brexit era; so there is no more on that subject here.
My overarching concern is that the Government, in particular in the White Paper, has failed to provide a clear sense of the size of the task which lies ahead. It is impossible to know whether this is because the Government itself does not appreciate the magnitude of the challenge, or because it is trying to conceal the difficulties. The Government has, for months, struggled to articulate just what Brexit might mean, and has made a series of disparate promises which a range of different constituencies have, if so minded, been able to rely on, or cling to. It will now start making hard choices. It has not prepared the ground well. (more…)