Editorial of February 2020

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by Pedro Madeira Froufe, Editor
Tiago Cabral, master in EU Law - UMinho


You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing
[i]

1. Throughout these last few weeks, the final steps necessary to complete the Brexit process were taken, in Brussels. On the 24th January, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, signed the historic “Brexit deal”. To make it fully official, two steps remained: a) approval by the European Parliament and; b) approval by a qualified majority in the Council. Regarding the European Parliament, indeed, this Institution gave its stamp to the deal by a fairly large margin of 621 votes in favour, 49 against and 13 abstentions, on the 29th of January. Lastly, on the 30th of January, the Council adopted, by written procedure, the decision necessary to conclude the withdrawal agreement.

2. We had plenty of delays and attempts to take Brexit over the line but this time, according to all signs, it will really happen. A quick search through our archives will show the Reader that we had plenty of opportunities to write about Brexit (and will probably keep writing during the transition period and beyond), but this editorial is, in itself, a moment of closure.
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Editorial of November 2019

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 by Allan F. Tatham, Professor at Facultad de Derecho, Universidad San Pablo CEU


“Does Britain have a great future behind it?”: The stress of Brexit on a (Dis)United Kingdom

Introduction

Whatever the results of the British general election on 12 December 2019, Brexit will have major implications for the populations and governance arrangements of the four nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and their continuing membership of the United Kingdom (UK). The present author has already discussed the constitutional implications of a vote to leave the European Union (EU).[i] This discussion instead will briefly highlight how the results of that referendum and the ensuing three years or so have increasingly led two of the smaller “devolved” nations (England makes up over 85% of the UK’s total population of some 66.5 million people) to reassess their position in the UK.

The Brexit referendum itself of June 2016 revealed both inter-nation and intra-nation division. According to the figures,[ii] majorities in England and Wales voted to leave, while most voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland (as well as Gibraltar) opted for remain. Yet even these results are more nuanced than first appear: London also voted to remain as did some other cities (e.g., Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle) though by differing margins. Moreover recent research[iii] has shown that in Wales, areas with predominantly Welsh-speakers had voted to remain (as did Cardiff) while many of the 21% English-born voters had voted leave. The picture in Northern Ireland was no less complex: there, the nationalist community voted overwhelmingly for remain, while the unionist community voted largely (though much less decisively) for leave.

Northern Ireland

Of the four nations, this is the one most directly affected by Brexit since it will be the only part of the UK with an external border with the EU (Ireland). It is also the only devolved nation, according to the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Peace Agreement, that has in effect the legal right to secede from the UK, once a referendum has been held. In fact the most intractable issue in the Brexit negotiations has proved to be finding a solution to the Northern Irish trilemma: fulfilling the UK Government’s promise to leave the EU customs union and single market; to preserve British “territorial integrity”; and to continue its commitment to the peace agreement. However, leaving the customs union and single market would have meant the re-imposition a hard (or physical) border between the North and the South of the island of Ireland, entailing checks and customs duties: this represented for all parties a direct threat to the peace agreements. A way forward out of this trilemma was needed in order to avoid (or at least minimise) the immense social and economic dislocation implicit in a no-deal Brexit; this presented the negotiators with an immense task.
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Editorial of March 2016

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by Allan F. Tatham, Professor at Facultad de Derecho, Universidad CEU San Pablo
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New Deal for the UK in Europe: Rewarding British particularism or Making Exceptionalism Acceptable?

And so British Prime Minister David Cameron, standing outside No. 10 Downing Street last Saturday, announced to a waiting nation (and Union) that he had wrested for the United Kingdom  almost all of the concessions he had been negotiating on with his EU Member State partners. What had once seemed as an almost Herculean task to achieve and an unprecedented one at that, has led to agreement with his fellow colleagues (no doubt grudgingly for some) in the European Council. Yes, Cameron was thus able to recommend to the British people on 20th February 2016 to accept the results of his “historic” renegotiation and vote for “Bremain” this summer; yes, the European Council has expressly recognized the constitutional and legal existence of a two- or multi-speed Europe[ii]; and, yes, the EU has accepted the existence – once again but in a much stronger version this time – of British particularism, in other words “in Europe but not of Europe” so to speak.

In the months leading up to the February European Council meeting, commentators canvassed the various options open to the UK were PM Cameron to have instead recommended a “Brexit” following negotiations and which might still happen if the popular vote in the 23rd June 2016 referendum were to show a majority in favour of leaving the EU.[iii] Among the possibilities considered have been: (1) UK membership of the European Economic Area (“EEA”) through reapplying for membership of the European Free Trade Association (“EFTA”) which would create the scenario of “back to the future” for the country as it was an original founding EFTA state in 1960, leaving to join the then European Economic Community in 1973; (2) a series of bilateral agreements between the UK and the EU, following Switzerland, each agreement being separately negotiated although the format is subject reconsideration by the EU; and (3) the Turkish model including a customs union, free movement of goods, and limited movement of workers as well as forming a strategic partnership in areas of mutual interest. Yet all three options would leave the UK woefully exposed internationally and in a very much weakened bargaining position outside the EU although probably still within the World Trade Organisation.

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