Category Archives: EU

Asking the wrong question

The Divisional Court’s judgment against the Government in R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Leaving the European Union [2016] EWHC 2768 (Admin) is being pored over as I type, but it seems to me that the Government’s defeat came out of a failure to make correct submissions.

It was common ground between the Crown and the claimants that the Article 50 notification would inevitably result in alterations to rights and obligations in UK law (paragraphs 10 and 11). This leads inexorably and inescapably to the conclusion, founded on the Case of Proclamations (1610) Co. Rep. 74, that the Crown (i.e. the Government) cannot make the Article 50 notification without the consent of Parliament expressed through an Act of Parliament. The Crown’s submission that Parliament had intended that the Crown be able to make alter those rights and obligations was rejected, probably correctly:

para-94

But this outcome was only inevitable if the Crown conceded that the Article 50 notification does indeed alter rights and obligations in domestic law – which, although it appears to be the view of the court, is not really argued over at all. This is not necessarily the case.

On an orthodox reading of the relationship between the domestic legal jurisdiction and the international legal jurisdiction, the British courts deem themselves unable to address international legal questions. This is a simplification but it will serve for the time being.

The court in Miller took the EU rights in domestic law that British citizens enjoy to rest upon membership of the European Union. It seems to me that this is not quite correct. This is true of the rights in EU and foreign law that British citizens enjoy. In domestic law, however, those rights in the domestic sphere flow entirely from the European Communities Act 1972, which confirms the principle that EU legislation is directly effective in the UK – and which would not do so without the European Communities Act. This is admitted by the court at paragraph 41 and 42 as a direct consequence of the fact that the Crown could not alter domestic law on its own:

para 41-42.PNG

Accordingly it is possible to imagine the following legal situation. The Crown activates the Article 50 notification and Britain departs from the European Union two years later. However, Parliament refuses to repeal the European Communities Act 1972. This would mean that UK citizens are still subject to the rights and obligations incurred in domestic law as a matter of EU membership, but cannot enjoy the rights and obligations incurred abroad (such as freedom of movement) as those are a matter for foreign and European courts. The differences between these rights are discussed at paragraphs 57 to 61.

This seems to me to be the critical failure of the Government’s case. Instead of admitting the losing ground that the Article 50 notification would have domestic legal effects, it ought to have denied this and argued for a strict division of the domestic and international orders, asserting that Article 50 would have no domestic legal impact whatsoever. It then should have advanced the argument that Parliament intended the Crown to have the power to so alter domestic law as a second ground of argument, if the first was lost. As it was, they conceded the only ground they might conceivably have won on, and thus doomed the Crown’s case.

I am not sure why this has happened, as it seems fairly obvious. I suspect I have gotten something quite wrong – if anyone can help me out please inform me.

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The next two years, part 1

Chris Hanretty’s Medium post about the Portuguese elections, purporting to debunk the Telegraph’s write-up of the President’s remarks on forming a government, has been doing the rounds. I suspect there might be a little more going on than he lets on.

It is without doubt that Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, the author of the Telegraph’s somewhat hysterical piece, has selectively quoted the Portuguese President in order to give the worst possible spin on the outcome. What is also true is that Mr Hanretty has done the same in reverse. For instance, his post openly discusses the following paragraph:

“In 40 years of democracy, no government in Portugal has ever depended on the support of anti-European forces, that is to say forces that campaigned to abrogate the Lisbon Treaty, the Fiscal Compact, the Growth and Stability Pact, as well as to dismantle monetary union and take Portugal out of the euro, in addition to wanting the dissolution of NATO…”

And this is explicable fairly easily, as is his intent to ask the leader of the PSD to form a government first. However, unlike Mr Evans-Pritchard, Mr Hanretty fails to mention — quite deliberately, I think — the following:

“After we carried out an onerous programme of financial assistance, entailing heavy sacrifices, it is my duty, within my constitutional powers, to do everything possible to prevent false signals being sent to financial institutions, investors and markets.”

This, I think you’ll agree, is a much more explicit statement of the President’s apparent intent to use his constitutional powers to obstruct the formation of a government, perhaps even until new elections can be held a year from now. In other words, the President’s remarks have been reinterpreted by Mr Hanretty to ensure that any discussion of his agency and his particular political views have been quietly excised from the article. This is particularly difficult because most people will not read both the Telegraph piece and Mr Hanretty’s blog post, and will (because one tends only to read people and sources with whom one already agrees) end up with a one-sided picture of what the President actually said. This doesn’t seem very helpful to anyone.

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