- Theresa May admits European judges will have sway over Britain during a transition period.
- A two-year transition period after Brexit “may mean we will start off with European Court of Justice still governing rules we’re part of for that period,” she told MPs.
- May had previously insisted that Britain will take back control of its laws on Brexit day.
- Tory Brexiteers including Rees-Mogg express their anger.
LONDON — Theresa May faces a backlash from pro-Brexit Tory MPs after admitting that the European Court of Justice could continue to have jurisdiction over Britain during a transitional period.
Responding to a question from staunch Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg in the House of Commons on Monday, the prime minister said that keeping close ties with the EU during a transitional stage after Brexit “may mean we will start off with European Court of Justice still governing rules we’re part of for that period.”
May went on to stress that the ECJ is unlikely to impose new laws on Britain during a transition period — or “implementation period” as it’s described by the government — which she believes ought to last around two years.
However, the prime minister’s admission represented a significant rowing back on her previous insistence that Britain will “take back control” of its laws the day it leaves the EU at the end of March 2019.
“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 total 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.
Expressing his disappointment with May’s remarks, Rees-Mogg said ending the ECJ’s jurisdiction over Britain is “perhaps the most important red line” in ensuring the June 23 referendum result is respected.
“If the ECJ still has jurisdiction, we will not have left the EU. It is perhaps the most important red line in ensuring the leave vote is honoured,” the MP for North Somerset said.
Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, chair of a backbench group pushing for a hard Brexit, said he wanted to “understand more” about the implications of May’s remarks before making a comment, but said “most MPs represent leave constituencies, and they may find it hard to explain why we are not taking back control of our laws on day one.”
Charlie Elphicke MP suggested that May should be prepared to walk away from Brexit negotiations without a deal in order to avoid the ECJ having sway over Britain during a transitional phase.
“It’s clear from the behaviour of Brussels and the Euro parliament we must be ready on day one, deal or no deal. What’s more, we’ll secure a better deal if the EU knows we can walk away from the table,” the Dover MP said.
What is the European Court of Justice?
The ECJ, set up in 1952, is the EU’s highest court and is responsible for ensuring all EU member states and institutions comply with EU law. It is fair to say that EU law is often vague and sometimes skeletal in wording, so the ECJ interprets the law at the request of national courts of member states that are struggling to make sense of it.
The ECJ is sometimes confused with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) — probably because the two have similar names. However, they are completely separate bodies with different legal remits. The ECJ deals with EU law while the ECHR makes decisions based on the European Convention on Human Rights. They are also located in different countries, with the ECJ based in Luxembourg and the ECHR in Strasbourg, France.
As a result, the ECHR’s more contentious rulings relating to human rights have often been conflated with the work of the ECJ, and led to the latter having an unfavourable reputation among Eurosceptic politicians and press in Britain. One example of this was the ECHR’s decision to grant voting rights to prisoners in all 47 contracting states.
“There is a lot of misunderstanding about the ECJ and it’s true to say that the ECJ has been painted in a very bad light, which I think is unfortunate,” Catherine Barnard, a Professor of EU law at the University of Cambridge, told Business Insider earlier this year.
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