Government accused of U-turn in latest policy paper on European Union court

Pauline Gross
August 23, 2017

The UK is seeking a new arrangement which would "mirror closely" the sophisticated European Union system for deciding which country's court should hear a civil, commercial or family dispute raising cross-border issues, whose laws should apply and how any decision should be enforced.

While a new United Kingdom position paper, published Wednesday, is expected to reinforce Prime Minister Theresa May's stance that Brexit should mean the United Kingdom taking full control over its laws, critics of the government have seized upon a shift in ministers' language as evidence that the new paper will make concessions over the future role of the European court.

According to a briefing by the Department for Exiting the European Union, the new paper will argue that there is no precedent in U.K., EU or worldwide law that requires the submit to direct ECJ jurisdiction in disputes with the bloc.

The Swiss judge told The Times the case for Britain accepting the Efta court's jurisdiction was compelling.

The document now being published on Wednesday appears to speak to their concerns, only saying the United Kingdom will seek to end the court's "direct jurisdiction".

The paper, due to be published this afternoon, will argue that it is "not necessary or appropriate", and indeed would be "unprecedented", for the CJEU to have direct jurisdiction over a non-member state. "We welcome this sensible and long overdue climbdown by the Prime Minister", the pro-Remain MP said.

In Brussels the move was not unexpected, with one source saying: "It's not surprising May has weakened her position, because her position was untenable and would have ruled out any withdrawal agreement".

Keir Starmer, the opposition Labour Party's Brexit spokesman, said the shift in language "appears to contradict the red line laid out in the prime minister's Lancaster House speech and the government's white paper [on Brexit]".

"The emphasis here should be on ending its direct effect, not trying to throw off the influence of the court altogether", it said.

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In one of the most politically sensitive documents Britain has published this month to try to nudge negotiations with the European Union forward, the government will show little compromise in what it calls a paper to "reinforce the message that after Brexit, the United Kingdom will take back control of its laws".

Leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign Chuka Umunna, said: "Their sudden shifting of the goalposts to ending only the "direct" jurisdiction of the ECJ suggests they are paving the way for some sort of climbdown".

"Nothing the Government says it wants to deliver from Brexit - be it on trade, citizens' rights, or judicial cooperation - can be achieved without a dispute resolution system involving some role for European judges", he said.

The Department for Exiting the EU (DexEU) will today state that "after Brexit, the United Kingdom will take back control of its laws".

"Existing worldwide conventions can provide for rules in some areas, but they would not generally provide the more sophisticated and effective interaction, based on mutual trust between legal systems, that now benefits both European Union and United Kingdom business, families and individual litigants", it says.

The British government will today publish a negotiating position paper in which it will call for the end of the European Court of Justice's jurisdiction over the United Kingdom in all situations after Brexit.

There is speculation that Wednesday's paper on the ECJ will suggest using the so called EFTA court as a model for resolving future EU-UK disputes on issues such as citizens' rights.

They added: "This paper takes the next steps as we prepare to engage constructively to negotiate our approach to this".

Other reports by GizPress

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