- Theresa May wants new system for resolving cross-border disputes with the EU that will mean European Judges making rulings on British people and business after Brexit.
- Prime Minister May had pledged to give Britain full control over its own laws after it leaves the European Union.
- UK government wants to take Britain out of the EU’s judicial cooperation system and set up a brand new system for dealing with cross-border legal disputes.
- Labour accuses the Conservative government of “vagueness and incoherence.”
LONDON — The UK government has confirmed it wants to negotiate a new system for resolving cross-border legal disputes with the EU, which will result in Britain still being subject to the rulings of European judges after Brexit.
In a position paper published on Tuesday, which you can read here, the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) said it wants “close cooperation” with the EU after Brexit in dealing with family, business and consumer disputes that straddle Britain and other EU member states.
Theresa May’s government wants to take Britain out of the EU’s judicial co-operation system and create a new arrangement for dealing with cross-border legal disputes between Britain and EU member states after March 2019.
The judicial cooperation system decides which country’s judicial system should handle disputes involving people and businesses from more than one country.
In practice, it would mean people and businesses in Britain being subject to the rulings of judges in EU member states. For example, a parent in Britain who wants to settle child custody with an ex-partner living in another EU member state could be forced to accept the rulings of judges in Germany or Spain.
“A judgment obtained in one country can be recognised and enforced in another,” a government source told the Guardian ahead of the paper’s publication.
“For example, with more and more families living across borders, we need to make absolutely sure that if and when problems arise they can be reassured that cross-border laws will apply to them in a fair and sensible way.”
The paper will pledge to “build on the existing foundation of co-operation and respect for the rule of law” with the EU.
The paper represents a significant climbdown from Prime Minister May who has for months pledged to use Brexit as a means of cutting Britain off from the influence of judges in all European courts.
“We will not have truly left the European Union if we are not in control of our own laws,” she declared in her Lancaster House speech in January, putting judicial independence at the very heart of her Brexit vision.
“We’re going to talk about Britain in which we are close friends, allies and trading partners with our European neighbours. But a Britain in which we pass our own laws and govern ourselves. But a Britain in which we pass our own laws and govern ourselves,” she said at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham in October.
Her decision to make European law such a rigid red line in Brexit negotiations was well-received by Tory Brexiteers but this position paper casts doubt over whether it will actually be achieved.
“The vagueness and incoherence of the government’s proposals prove what an appalling error they committed by making ending the jurisdiction of the ECJ a red line in negotiations,” Labour MP and Europhile McGovern said.
“To have any kind of relationship with Europe — be it on trade, citizens’ rights or security — there will need to be a court in place to resolve disputes. That court will include European judges, will have the power to make decisions that affect the UK, and most likely will shadow the ECJ in the vast majority of cases.
“The government will end up taking back control from one court and immediately handing it to another — which is hardly what millions of people had in mind when they voted for Brexit.”
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) welcomed the paper but urged the government to provide “clear communication” to British businesses ahead of any changes to how cross-border disputes are handled.
“To enable small businesses to engage in easy cross-border trade with the EU27 after Brexit, new arrangements for civil judicial cooperation must ensure legal certainty, easy and effective access to justice, clear designation of the applicable law where appropriate and recognition and enforcement processes that are both speedy and effective,” FSB National Chairman Mike Cherry said.
“Commercial business-to-business disputes that take place across borders with EU27 countries, such as on late payments, must have quick and easy remedies to shore up small business trading confidence.
“Small businesses will need time to adapt to any new changes and therefore clear and early communication will be essential once an agreement has been negotiated with the Commission. This will be necessary to avoid a dip in confidence, which might then be followed by a dip in levels of trade.”
Last week DExEU published papers vowing to establish a bespoke customs arrangement with the EU and prevent a return of a hard border to Northern Ireland. The EU Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstaft dismissed the former as “fantasy,” tweeting: “To be in & out of the Customs Union & “invisible borders” is a fantasy. First need to secure citizens rights & a financial settlement.”
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