Chronos vs. Brexit: why extending Article 50 and delaying Brexit might not be a feasible solution for the EU

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 by Tiago Cabral, Member of CEDU

1. If everything goes according to plan, the United Kingdom (UK) is currently set to leave the European Union (EU) on 29 March 2019 at 11.00 p.m. That is the date enshrined on the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the British Government has a deal that, in theory, allows the UK to leave in the planned timeframe. Remarkably, the EU has managed to keep an extremely (and surprising) united front regarding the Brexit negotiations. It is noteworthy that the message from the Chairman of the Austrian People’s Party and current Austrian Prime-Minister Sebastian Kurz perfectly mirrors the one expressed by Jean-Claude Juncker or Donald Tusk.

2. However, in the UK nothing is going according to plan for Prime-Minister Theresa May. After the deal was announced and its contents revealed a number of ministers – both brexiters and remainers – resigned from the cabinet. Seizing the opportunity to press for a harder Brexit, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the current chairman of the “European Research Group” (a group of hard-Brexit leaning MPs) started pushing for a vote on May’s leadership of the conservative party and (in practice) premiership. Said attempted failed to get the backing of enough MPs (for now) but could find new breath if the current deal is rejected by parliament. On that note, the current deal is most likely than not to be indeed rejected. About 100 conservative MPs have already stated on record that they would vote against it, and most of the opposition parties (including the DUP that has been keeping the government afloat) promised to do the same. The vote is set to happen on 11 December.
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Brexit and the possibility of “withdrawing the withdrawal”: a hypothetical question?

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 by Alessandra Silveira, Editor

In case C-621/18, Wightman and others, pending judgment by the ECJ, the request for a preliminary ruling concerns the interpretation of Article 50 TEU. It has been made in proceedings where the opposing Scots parties are Andy Wightman and o., on the one hand, and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, on the other, raising the question whether it is possible to revoke the notification of the intention of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to withdraw from the European Union. The Court of Session, Inner House, First Division (Scotland), seeks, in essence, to ascertain whether, where a Member State has notified the European Council of its intention to withdraw from the European Union in accordance with Article 50 TEU, EU law permits that Member State to unilaterally revoke its notification before the end of the period of two years referred to in that Article. If so, the referring court is uncertain as to the conditions governing such a revocation and its effects relative to that Member State remaining within the European Union.

The referring court states that, under Section 13 of the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the withdrawal agreement which might be concluded between the United Kingdom and the Union under Article 50(2) TEU, setting out the arrangements for that withdrawal, may be ratified only if that agreement and the framework for the future relationship of the United Kingdom and the European Union has been approved by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The referring court states that, where the withdrawal agreement is not approved by that Parliament, and if no other proposal is made, the departure of the United Kingdom from the Union will nonetheless take effect as from 29 March 2019. The referring court adds that it is uncertain whether it is possible to revoke the notification unilaterally and to remain within the European Union. That court also states that an answer from the ECJ will clarify the options open to the parliamentarians when they vote on those matters.
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The right to withdraw the notification to leave the European Union under Article 50 TEU: can we still save the marriage?

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by Mariana Alvim, PhD candidate at University of Lisbon

The 29 March 2017 will be always recalled as the date the United Kingdom has served divorce papers on the European Union, following a referendum that took place on the 23 June 2016 where the majority of the British people decided to leave the EU.

The EU institutions and the Member States have limited instruments at their disposal to persuade other Member State to remain a member of the Union against their will; therefore if exit cannot be prevented at least it can be regulated.

The decision to depart is always taken in accordance with the Member State’s domestic law but once Article 50 TEU is triggered the law of the European Union governs the withdrawal process and the departure itself.

And despite its rapid rise to fame in the result of the British referendum, this sparsely worded Treaty provision still raises more questions that it answers.

It is important to underline that Article 50 TEU imposes substantive and procedural conditions on the withdrawing Member State. But once it has given notice under Article 50(1) TEU, all that the withdrawing Member State is apparently required to do, before the Treaties cease to apply, is to wait out the two-year period stipulated in Article 50(2) TEU.

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R (Miller) v The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [2016] EWHC 2768 (Admin) : Realpolitik and the Revocation of an Article 50 TEU Notification to Withdraw

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by John Cotter, Senior Lecturer at University of Wolverhampton Law School

The opening lines of a judgment – in common law jurisdictions, at least – can very often be revealing of a court’s concerns. The first five paragraphs of the collegiate High Court judgment (Lord Thomas CJ, Sir Terence Etherton MR and Sales LJ) in Miller indicate very clearly the judges’ worry that their judgment would be misunderstood by sections of the media and the wider public. This judgment did not have “any bearing on the question of the merits or demerits of a withdrawal of the [UK] from the [EU]”, the Court stated. Rather, the question before the Court was a narrow constitutional issue, and a purely legal matter: whether the government could use Royal prerogative powers to give notification of withdrawal from the EU pursuant to Article 50 TEU or whether this was a matter for the Houses of Parliament. On this question, the High Court ruled that the notification under Article 50 TEU may not be given by means of Royal prerogative; rather, such notification is a matter for Parliament exclusively. While the conducting of international relations and the signing of and withdrawal from international treaties were powers generally to be exercised by the executive on behalf of the Crown, the High Court reasoned that where withdrawal from a treaty would result in changes to domestic law (as withdrawal from the EU would), such withdrawal could not be effected without Parliament.

The Court’s attempt to avoid misinterpretation of its role appears, however, to have fallen on deaf or wilfully closed ears, with the judges being subjected to attacks in sections of the media that were astonishing even by the standards of Britain’s rather histrionic tabloid press (one publication’s front page contained the headline “Enemies of the People” along with photographs of the three judges). To many of those advocating Brexit, the judgment was an unelected court playing politics and frustrating the will of the people (even though the European Union Referendum Act 2015 had not provided that the referendum result be binding). To the Court’s defenders, the judgment was the latest in a line of rulings in which the courts upheld the supremacy of Parliament over Royal prerogative powers. It is certainly the case that the High Court judgment, if upheld by the Supreme Court (which is due to hear an appeal in early December), has the potential to make the giving of the Article 50 notification a more lengthy and complex process. It is conceivable that both Houses of Parliament could use their leverage to require the government to reveal more detail on their post-notification negotiating aims. However, as a matter of realpolitik, the judgment is unlikely prevent Article 50 being triggered: Labour, the largest opposition party in the Commons has indicated that it will not vote against a Bill to give notification under Article 50, and it is unlikely that the Lords would provoke further questions about their relevance in modern Britain by blocking Brexit.

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