Defying convention: Supreme Court puts Sewel on the sidelines

unknownIn the new age of alternative facts, even Sean Spicer might struggle to spin Tuesday’s Supreme Court judgment as anything other than a comprehensive defeat for the government.

Yet, as my colleague Dominic Ruck Keene’s post alluded to, the ultimate political ramifications of Miller would have made the Article 50 process appreciably more turgid had the Justices accepted the various arguments relating to devolution.

Continue reading

Free Trade Agreements and the White House – where are we now?

ceta_signing_qtp_848x480_796869187661Trump’s inauguration seems not a bad moment to be having a look at the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs, actual or potential) which are swirling around at the moment, and their likely reception in the changed world which we face.

First on the list, our own tried, tested, and found electorally wanting, EU Treaties. They are FTAs, but with lots of knobs on – free movement of people, of establishment, level playing fields about employment rights, the environment and consumer protection, to name but a few.

The first thing to say is that FTAs, wherever they are, don’t come all that unencumbered these days. Continue reading

Belfast court dismisses Brexit challenge

eu-1473958_1920McCord, Re Judicial Review [2016] NIQB 85 (28 October 2016) – read judgment

A challenge to the legality of the UK’s departure proceedings from the EU has been rejected by the High Court in Northern Ireland. In a judgment which will be of considerable interest to the government defending a similar challenge in England, Maguire J concluded that the UK government does not require parliamentary approval to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. This is, par excellence, an area for the exercise of the government’s treaty making powers under the Royal Prerogative.

See our previous post on Article 50 and a summary of the arguments in the English proceedings.

This ruling was made in response to two separate challenges. One was brought by a group of politicians, including members of the Northern Ireland assembly, the other by Raymond McCord, a civil rights campaigner whose son was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in 1997. They argued that the 1997 peace deal (“the Good Friday Agreement”) gave Northern Ireland sovereignty over its constitutional future and therefore a veto over leaving the EU. Like the English challengers, they also argued that Article 50 could only be invoked after a vote in Parliament.

At centre stage in the English case is the means by which Article 50 TEU is to be triggered and the question of the displacement of prerogative executive power by statute.  While this issue was also raised in the challenge before the Northern Ireland court, Maguire J also had before him a range of specifically Northern Irish constitutional provisions which were said to have a similar impact on the means of triggering Article 50. To avoid duplication of the central issues which the English court will deal with, this judgment concerned itself with the impact of Northern Ireland constitutional provisions in respect of notice under Article 50.

However, the judge had some clear views on the role of prerogative powers in the Brexit procedure, which, whilst respecting the outcome of the English proceedings, he did not hesitate to set out. Continue reading

Arguments in the referendum challenge now available

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The imminent  litigation concerning the government’s response to the Brexit vote is much anticipated. The skeleton arguments have now been filed. The High Court has just resisted an application for partial redaction of the arguments, so they are open for public perusal.

A quick reminder of what this is all about:

In R (on the Application of Gina Miller) and others v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union the claimants seek a declaration that it would be unlawful for the defendant secretary of state or the prime minister on behalf of HM Government to issue a notification under Article 50 (TEU) to withdraw the UK from the EU without an act of parliament authorising such notification.

Here is the  skeleton argument from one of the groups supporting that case (People’s Challenge), and here are the Government defendants’ grounds of resistance

Prerogative Power

People’s Challenge

The triggering of Article 50 requires a prior step: the decision to withdraw from the EU in response to the referendum result. It is only once this decision is taken that it can be notified to the European Council.

This first step cannot be made as an exercise of the royal prerogative, which is the power of the government to take action without consulting parliament.  This power has been weakened over time – mainly whittled away by parliamentary legislation – and is so residual now that it cannot be exercised to implement Brexit. Consequently, the executive does not have power to decide that the UK should withdraw from the EU, and without putting the matter to vote in Parliament, ministers cannot notify the European Council of any such decision to withdraw.

Because parliament brought us into the UK, only parliament can authorise a decision to leave.

Since the prerogative forms part of the common law,  the courts have jurisdiction to determine the extent of this power in accordance with ordinary judicial review principles.

Government 

Prerogative powers cannot be reduced by implication. In any event, withdrawal from the EU by governmental fiat has not been prohibited by any statute.

The Act that parliament passed to authorise the referendum was predicated on the “clear understanding” that the government would respect the outcome, and this is a lawful and constitutional step. Parliament has a role, but only in the negotiations following the decision to leave, not in the taking of the decision itself, which follows the outcome of the referendum. That is for the government, under its prerogative treaty making powers.

The referendum result cannot be attacked in the way the challengers contend; the vote concerned the decision to leave the EU. As articulated, this result should be given effect by use of prerogative powers.

Courts have no more power to adjudicate on the decision to withdraw from the EU as they did on the decision to join it. This is now, and was then, a matter of “highest policy reserved to the Crown”. Treaty-making, with the European Union or any other body, is not generally subject to parliamentary control.

Citizens’ Rights

People’s Challenge

Even if the government has prerogative power to deal with this, it cannot be used in any way to modify “fundamental rights”, in particular “citizenship rights”; these rights include employment, equal pay and healthcare rights.

Government

Article 50 was drafted to allow member states to determine their own requirements for withdrawal, free from interference from EU law. This is a provision of the EU Treaties which regulates states and does not confer rights upon individuals. As such, it cannot be invoked in a complaint such as the one at hand, regarding the activation of Article 50.

In any event, no particular rights have been asserted by the claimant that might be infringed by this process, and therefore they are not justiciable.

Devolution

People’s Challenge

The devolved legislatures of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are bound by EU law to protect the rights of their citizens. Furthermore, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic cannot be separated by different rules on free movement of EU citizens.

Government

The government’s use of its prerogative powers has nothing to do with devolution. The conduct of foreign affairs is a “reserved” matter so that the devolved governments have no competence over it.

Concluding statements

People’s Challenge

If Article 50 is triggered without the authorisation of MPs, this would create a precedent preventing any future parliament from legislating to hold a second referendum on EU withdrawal.

Government

It is “entirely appropriate” under the UK’s unwritten constitution for the government to implement the outcome of the resolution without the need for parliamentary authorisation.

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Related posts:

Juncker’s ban on post-Brexit negotiations may be illegal

30n02junckertwoap-485712Shortly after the Brexit referendum, the President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker declared that he had

forbidden Commissioners from holding discussions with representatives from the British government — by presidential order.

In effect, he has prohibited any executives in the EU Commission from embarking on negotiations with British government representatives before the government triggers the exit process under Article 50. Now a legal challenge is being proposed to the legality of Mr Juncker’s declaration. There is no basis for this so-called “presidential order”, say the challengers, a group of British expats seeking to protect their interests in the negotiations over the UK’s exit. Continue reading

Get out the back, Jack? make a new plan, Stan?

slammingdoor1… well there aren’t exactly fifty ways to leave the European Union, but from the vociferous debate in legal as well as political circles we might be excused for thinking there are a great deal more. Today’s Times reports that “1,000 people join legal fight against Brexit” to ensure that parliament votes before the government formally triggers the exit procedure from the EU. David Pannick will argue the challenge. But against such a legal heavyweight is former law lord Peter Millett, whose letter published in yesterday’s Times declares that the exercise of our treaty rights is a matter for the executive and the triggering of Article 50 does not require parliamentary approval. So whom are we to believe?

In her guest post Joelle Grogan has speculated upon the possible future for rights in the immediate aftermath of the referendum so I won’t cover the same ground. I will simply draw out some of the questions considered in two reports produced before the result of the referendum was known: 1. House of Lords EU Committee Report (HL138) and the more detailed analysis by Richard Gordon QC and Rowena Moffatt: 2 “Brexit: The Immediate Legal Consequences”.

  1. The House of Lords EU Report

Is Article 50 the only means of leaving the EU?

States have an inherent right to withdraw. It would be inconceivable that the member states of such a close economic arrangement would force an unwilling state to continue to participate. The significance of Article 50 therefore lies not in establishing a right to withdraw but in defining the procedure for doing so. Continue reading

One trade freedom we could do without

istock_000004682690small_cowsSupporters of Brexit and campaigners for animal welfare are not natural bedfellows. And indeed my quick poll of the intuitive reaction to Thursday’s vote revealed anxiety about a future race to the bottom in terms of welfare standards as European regulations are unpicked and new trade deals are carved out, whether with individual member states of the EU, the European Union as a whole, or under the surveillance of the WTO. (But here’s a call for action: https://action.ciwf.org.uk/ea-action/action?)ea.client.id=119&ea.campaign.id=53173&ea.tracking.id=98b15a7c&utm_campaign=transport&utm_source=ciwftw&utm_medium=twitter

Which is why it is critical at this moment to remember that the obstacle in the way of this country reviewing its participation in the trade in live animals is one of the pillars of the EU Treaty: free movement of goods. Animals are regarded as goods, and any measure adopted by a member state government interfering with the movement of livestock within the single market and beyond its borders with its trading partners has been prohibited as a “quantitative restriction” on exports. When we are eventually free of this overarching prohibition, no time should be lost in grasping the opportunity to alter our laws in recognition of humane standards in animal husbandry.

Some Background: veal crates and the port protests in the 1990s

Just at the time when the red carpet was being rolled out for the Human Rights Act, campaigners for the rights of non human animals had their eye on a much more difficult task: persuading the government that shipments of young calves to veal crates across the Channel defeated our hard-won animal welfare laws and were in breach of the EU’s own proclaimed animal protection measures. The practice of rearing veal for the popular white meat involves confining a week old calf in a box for five months until slaughter. The well respected farm animal charity Compassion in World Farming managed to convince the UK courts that they not only had standing but an arguable case that this export trade breached the domestic prohibition on the veal crate system as well as the relevant EU Convention and Recommendation. CIWF contended that the UK government had power under Community law

to restrict the export of veal calves to other Member States where the system described above was likely to be used, contrary to the standards in force in the United Kingdom and the international standards laid down by the Convention to which all the Member States and the Community had agreed to adhere….

the export of calves to face rearing contrary to the Convention is considered to be cruel and immoral by animal welfare organisations and a considerable body of public opinion, supported by authoritative scientific veterinary opinion, in the Member State from which exports occur.

In fact the EU rules merely contained stipulations as to the minimum width of veal crates and the composition of veal calves’ diets. Continue reading