Arguments in the referendum challenge now available

Rosalind English

This post originally appeared on the UK Human Rights Blog, and is reproduced here with permission and thanks.

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.


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. Continue reading

The TTIP Negotiations Innovations: On Legal Reasons for Cheer

Elaine FaheyDr Elaine Fahey

By now, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment (TTIP) negotiations have undergone a marathon 14 rounds of negotiations after 36 months of talks, despite Brexit and the tumultuous US presidential elections standing in the back drop. The political mood on either side of the Atlantic is still challenging to say the least. And after EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) being proposed for recently as a mixed agreement meaning that many national parliaments will vote on it (not being an exclusive EU only agreement as anticipated), the legal context of free trade with Europe just got trickier.

The TTIP negotiations have generated fears about the transfer of authority to a new living entity as a form of global governance. Yet by opting for public institutions and institutionalisation within TTIP, there is a shift towards transparency and the ‘governability’ of global governance. Even if it fails – and there is a reasonable chance that it may not survive the US elections – there are a whole host of positives to be found within the TTIP negotiations. They can be viewed as innovative attempts to right the wrongs of global governance. They may well inspire future developments and are worthy of a brief analysis.

This post focusses upon the latest developments as to TTIP’s institutions in the latest texts released in mid-July.

On the institutional side of things, the EU’s most recent proposal of 14 July 2016 has undergone some considerable changes to appease European critics. The latest TTIP EU-proposed text still features a Joint Committee, comprised of the US Trade Representative and an EU Commission at the apex of TTIPS’s Regulatory Cooperation. The Committee would possess considerable supervisory and legally salient interpretive powers about TTIP’s proposed 30 chapters. But is more executive than supranational in nature and this matters to the US. The executive dominance of the EU’s proposed Institutional chapter as of July 2016  is apparent (Article X. 2) – because it would provide for powers to supervise and guide activities, adopt rules, adopt interpretations about the agreement and act subject to transparency and openness principles- between levels of Government essentially. The Joint Committee would principally work with Specialised Committees (e.g. market access, services …) and Working Groups but can be perceived as a great empowerment of the European Commission, arguably moving far beyond its institutional and constitutional functions.

However, it is importantly now heavily ‘tempered’ by a number of other bodies, actors and entities that align with more European than American ideals.  Above all, binding duties of cooperation and participation along wide transparency and equal access are ‘latecomers’ to the negotiations – and heavily Americanised ideas of Administrative law (e.g. ‘notice and comment’). They are important in so far as they mitigate critique of earlier drafts as to closed-decision-making practices. Thus firstly, the Joint Committee is ‘tempered’ by a Regulators Forum which would discuss regulatory cooperation between regulators, holding public sessions. The Transatlantic Legislators Dialogue (TLD) next envisaged within the new text would be comprised of EU and US parliamentarians and has already been part of several decades of EU-US relations. Nonetheless, although lacking any significant powers, as has always been the case with the TLD, it could further foster the parliamentary dimension of cooperation. In the text, the Civil Society forum would also be provided for to ensure a balance number of interests is displayed, along with a Domestic Advisory Body independent representatives of civil society, whose participation is to be facilitated. Although a lot of functional overlap is apparent from this version of the text, it is an important state of affairs. For example, ironically, the harshest criticism of the latest draft of institutional set up is that it contains too much participation or too many bodies and actors – and this criticism comes directly from the TTIP’s institutionalised Advisory Body, itself supposed to represent civil society. Previous version of the text failed to provide adequate assurances concerning the place of parliamentary sovereignty and civil society. And so on balance, on can see its virtues emerging as a broadly open and truly participatory idea of transnational cooperation with considerable control and input given to elected representatives. Continue reading

INIS Free ?

Aidan O’Neill

In his poem The Second Coming written in 1919 at a time of political and social ferment across Europe and an earlier constitutional breakdown within the United Kingdom, WB Yeats (that great Anglo-Irishman, a descendant and representative of “no petty people”) wrote the following lines:

… Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand ….

Against that apocalyptic vision, it is of some interest to note a recent op-ed piece in the Irish Times, in which the Irish writer Fintan O’Toole has made the intriguing suggestion that one possible political response to the further break-down of our constitutional order which the Brexit vote heralds, might be for a complete re-configuration of the nations within the Anglo Celtic Archipelago/Atlantic Isles.  He suggests that Scotland and Northern Ireland might leave (and so dissolve) the United Kingdom, and join Ireland in some form of, a yet to be worked out, union.

Historic precedent for a Scots-Irish union ?

It is sometimes said to be a characteristic of the Scots and Irish that (like the Bourbons) that they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.   Their role in a Tolkien saga might be that of “The Grudge Bearers”.

In that spirit, and taking the approach of la longue durée to Fintan O’Toole’s suggestion, we might find some historic precedent for setting up a Scottish-Irish Union (sans et contre l’Angleterre) in the campaign of Edward Bruce, younger brother of and then heir to Robert Bruce, who in the year after his brother’s 1314 victory at Bannockburn, sailed to Ireland from Scotland with a sizeable fighting force and there allied with native Irish fighting against Anglo-Norman magnates owing fealty to the English crown, and had himself proclaimed High King of Ireland.

This is attested to in a remarkable document of 1317 which the native Irish princes (led by Donal O’Neill, king of Cenel Eoghain or Tyrone) addressed to the Avignon Pope John XXII through two of his papal nuncios who were then in England attempting to broker a post-Bannockburn peace between Edward II of England and Robert Bruce, King of Scots.   This Remonstrance notes in part as follows:

“[O]n account of the injustice of the kings of England and their wicked ministers and the constant treachery of the English of mixed race, who, by the ordinance of the Roman curia, were bound to rule our nation with justice and moderation and have set themselves wickedly to destroy it; and in order to shake off the hard and intolerable yoke of their slavery and to recover our native liberty, which for a time through them we lost, we are compelled to wage deadly war with them, aforesaid, preferring under stress of necessity to put ourselves like men to the trial of war in defence of our right, rather than to bear like women their atrocious outrages.

And that we may be able to attain our purpose more speedily and fitly in this respect, we call to our help and assistance Edward Bruce, illustrious earl of Carrick, brother of Robert by the grace of God most illustrious king of the Scots, who is sprung from our noblest ancestors.

And as it is free to anyone to renounce his right and transfer it to another, all the right which is publicly known to pertain to us in the said kingdom as its true heirs, we have given and granted to him by our letters patent, and in order that he may do therein judgment and justice and equity which through default of the prince Edward II the King of England have utterly failed therein, we have unanimously established and set Edward Bruce up as our king and lord in our kingdom aforesaid, for in our judgment and the common judgment of men he is pious and prudent, humble and chaste, exceedingly temperate, in all things sedate and moderate, and possessing power (God on high be praised) to snatch us mightily from the house of bondage with the help of God and our own justice, and very willing to render to everyone what is due to him of right, and above all is ready to restore entirely to the Church in Ireland the possessions and liberties of which she was damnably despoiled, and he intends to grant greater liberties than ever otherwise she has been wont to have.

May it please you therefore, most Holy Father, for the sake of justice and general peace mercifully to approve what we have done as regards our said lord and king Edward Bruce, forbidding the King of England and our aforesaid adversaries henceforward to molest us, or at least be pleased to render us with fitting favour our due complement of justice in respect of them.

For know, our revered Father, that besides the kings of lesser Scotia who all drew the source of their blood from our greater Scotia, retaining to some extent our language and habits, a hundred and ninety seven kings of our blood have reigned over the whole island of Ireland.”

The Avignon Papacy neither recognised Edward Bruce’s claim to the High Kingship of Ireland, nor did it respond favourably to the Irish princes’ Remonstrance.  In October 1318 the Scots-Irish army under Edward Bruce was defeated by the Anglo-Norman forces of Edward II.   Edward Bruce was killed, his body quartered and sent throughout Ireland and his head delivered to King Edward II. Continue reading


Aidan O’Neill

Looking back on the result of the Brexit vote, future historians may well conclude that the post-WW II United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was, like Belgium, held together by the European Union.

Flanders and Wallonia dare not split into independent countries (despite decades of mutual antipathy and non-co-operation) because neither wishes to lose Brussels as its capital.   But London does not hold the UK together. The Brexit vote revealed the vast gulf in social attitudes and political aspirations between London and the rest of England. The encircling M25 haloes and isolates London, just as the medieval palisade separated pre-Tudor Dublin from “Irish” Ireland.   L’Angleterre profonde now lies beyond the Pale, and London as an international city state in waiting is profoundly out of sympathy and out of step with it.

Meanwhile, north of Hadrian’s Wall, a different politics flourishes in which London, and the rest of England, appear increasingly irrelevant.   The SNP now run a minority administration from Edinburgh, largely as a result of the remarkable resurrection of the Tory vote under the leadership of Ruth Davidson MSP and the continued collapse of the Labour vote under the leadership of Kezia Dugdale MSP. But the Scottish Tories keep their distance from their sister party to the south and contemplate, as part of their on-going de-toxification, dropping the label “Conservative” and returning to their pre-1965 designation as the Scottish Unionists.   And Scottish Labour sinks into yet deeper irrelevance, while flirting with talk of a post-Brexit complete federalisation of the UK.

In his speech on 14 September 2014 following the result of the Scottish independence referendum (in which one of the claims made by those advocating the status quo was that only by voting to stay in the UK could Scotland ensure that it remained within the EU) the then UK Prime Minister David Cameron proclaimed that he was “a passionate believer in our United Kingdom” and that he “wanted more than anything that our Union stay together”.   And in her 13 July 2016 acceptance speech on succeeding him as UK Prime Minister Theresa May noted that

“The full title of my party is the Conservative and Unionist Party. And that word unionist is very important to me. It means we believe in the union, the precious, precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

But just what makes this bond so doubly “precious” and why it should be the object of “passionate belief” has not been further developed.   It is not clear that this is, in any event, a sentiment that is shared in l’Angleterre profonde by whose votes the Conservative party won its unexpected majority in the House of Commons in May 2015.   The Conservative successful general election campaign was marked by dog-whistle anti-Caledonian insinuations that a vote for the Labour Party meant a vote for the SNP in coalition with it, putting “sad Ed” Miliband into the pockets of “smart Alec” Salmond and “tricky Nicky” Sturgeon.

As the distinct polities which make up the still nominally United Kingdom grow ever further apart, the only solution which appears to be offered is the delegation – but never the complete transfer – of more powers to the English regions and to the non-English nations.  This might be termed disintegrative devolution.

But the shibboleth of sovereignty means that power is never unequivocally divested from Westminster.   Powers devolved are powers retained.   Thus when it comes to the (Brexit) crunch from a Westminster perspective, while the devolved legislatures and executives may properly expect to be consulted on and advised of negotiations, they cannot expect to participate in them.   And they are certainly not regarded as having any power to prevent either the UK as a whole, or any of its constituent parts, from leaving the EU, notwithstanding that in the Brexit referendum (in which UK resident Commonwealth and Irish citizens, but not other EU citizens, had a vote) Scotland voted 62% in favour of remaining in the EU against 38% for leaving it, while the vote in Northern Ireland was 56% for remain and 42% for leave.

Unlike Westminster, the devolved legislatures are elected on the basis of a franchise which gives the vote to citizens of other EU member states lawfully resident in their territories.   The devolved executives may therefore properly claim to have obtained a democratic mandate from, and be democratically accountable, to these EU citizens; and may plausibly claim to have the constitutional duty to represent and give voice to those individuals’ concerns and claims.   But the fact that EU citizens currently lawfully resident in the UK are mentioned both by the Prime Minister and by her newly appointed Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis MP, only in the context of their possible use as human shields or bargaining counters in the Brexit negotiations rather indicates that the little Englander politics of the “nasty party” have not been wholly abandoned under this new UK premiership. Continue reading

10 (pro-EU) reasons to be cheerful after Brexit

Cormac Mac Amhlaigh

As the dust continues to swirl around the momentous Brexit referendum result a month ago (and doesn’t show any signs of settling anytime soon) I suspect many EU sympathisers will be somewhere in the middle of the various stages of the Kübler-Ross Grief cycle: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. So, somewhat incongruosly, are the ‘leavers’. Whereas there are almost as many emotions being experienced on all sides as there are potential options on what will happen next both in terms of the UK’s future relationship with the EU as well as the future of the EU itself, in this post I want to set out a number of (pro-EU) reasons – some obvious, some optimistic, others wildly speculative – to be cheerful amidst the uncertainty created by the Brexit vote.

  1. It is worth reminding ourselves that (a version of) the EU existed before the UK joined in 1972 (with Denmark and Ireland) and it will survive its withdrawal. Brexit will not have the same effect as one of the founding six, and particularly say Germany or France, leaving the bloc.
  1. The feared domino effect of other Member States agitating to leave has not transpired. Indeed post-Brexit opinion polls have shown a bounce in support for the EU in other EU Member states since Brexit.
  1. Even were an in/out referendum to be held in another EU Member state, there are good reasons to believe (barring unforeseeable ‘exogenous shocks’) that a majority would not vote to leave. No other EU Member State has a national media so relentlessly hostile to the EU as the UK. The UK’s top-two selling national newspapers (with a combined circulation as much as the next three put together) are rabidly anti-EU and a study released during the referendum campaign found that even the UK’s supposedly ‘neutral’ state broadcaster, the BBC, had been overwhelmingly negative about the EU over the past fifteen years. Against this heavily Eurosceptic background, there was still only 3% difference between leave and remain in the referendum result. This augurs well for an EU referendum in an EU Member state with a less hostile media.
  1. The referendum and its aftermath has increased curiosity, interest and knowledge about the EU and what it does among many previously disinterested EU citizens. Most obviously in the UK where google reported a sharp rise in searches asking was ‘What is the EU?’, albeit that this was after the polls had closed. Admittedly, much of this knowledge and information is starting from a pretty low base but any improvement has to be a good thing for the EU.
  1. Ever since the last British government passed the EU Act 2011, which requires referendums in the UK on certain future reforms at EU level, future EU reform would have been considerably hamstrung by the UK through the floating of a ‘referendum veto’ at every turn in negotiations.   An actual referendum on future EU reform, even reform which would have been disproportionality advantageous to the UK, would have been very unlikely to succeed given the general eurosceptic feeling in the UK as exemplified in the Brexit referendum result. Future negotiations would therefore have involved even more protracted wrangling over EU reform than is usually the case, with increasingly less patience with the UK among other EU Member States. In the Brexit result, future EU reform has dodged a considerably large UK-shaped bullet allowing for better reform at the EU level at a time when it needs to be efficient and decisive in the face of the many issues it currently faces.
  1. The Brexit vote has put EU legitimacy back on the agenda (again!). It provides a useful time to reflect on the broader legitimacy of the EU, particularly from the viewpoint of citizen knowledge about, and engagement with, the EU. Vital lessons can be learned from the way in which the EU was presented as well as misrepresented in the Brexit campaign debates and the extent to which EU questions tend to be dominated by domestic political concerns. This should feed into analysis and reflection on the never-ending project that is the enhancement of the EU’s legitimacy. Furthermore, unlike the high-stakes, pressure-cooker atmosphere of the eurocrisis, the Brexit vote has been followed by an important ‘cooling down’ period (helped considerably by Cameron’s decision not to push the Art. 50 button on his resignation) which allows for more probing and searching analysis into these big questions and better solutions to be developed.

Continue reading

The CJEU’s Headscarves cases: analysis of the contrasting AG opinions

Darryl HutcheonDarryl Hutcheon

Conflicts between the religious practices of workers and the ‘neutrality’ policies of their employers have repeatedly come before the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) and domestic courts in the UK. They now arise for the first time before the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) in two cases: C-188/15 Bougnaoui v Micropole SA and C-157/15 Achbita v G4S Secure Solutions NV80. This note analyses the opinion of Advocate General Sharpston in Bougnaoui handed down on 13 July 2016; contrasts that opinion with the earlier opinion[1] of AG Kokott in Achbita; and considers what these decisions tell us about the future trajectory of EU (and domestic) discrimination law.

Facts in both cases

Ms Bougnaoui and Ms Achbita are Muslim women who were employed in customer-facing roles by private sector employers. Both wore headscarves but wore nothing which covered their faces. Ms Bougnaoui was told that her headscarf had ‘embarrassed’ the employees of a company client she had visited; she was dismissed when she refused to agree not to wear a headscarf on future visits to that client. Ms Achbita had worked for her employer for some time before she started to wear a headscarf; she was then dismissed on the basis that her new practice breached a strict company ‘neutrality’ policy.

AG Sharpston’s opinion in Bougnaoui

Several aspects of AG Sharpston’s opinion are worthy of comment.

First, she rejected the suggestion that EU law on religious discrimination ought precisely to reflect the ECtHR’s article 9 (freedom of religion) jurisprudence, in effect by allowing a human rights justification/proportionality defence to direct discrimination claims ([58] – [67]). AG Sharpston maintained that the Framework Directive 2000/78 (“the Directive”) set down a clear distinction: indirect discrimination can be defended by reference to proportionality, but direct discrimination admits of (much) narrower exceptions.[2] Her position stands in contrast to the view expressed by some senior judges in the UK that the lack of a general justification defence to direct discrimination is a “defect” in the law: see e.g. R (E) v Governing Body of JFS [2009] UKSC 15 at [9].

Second, AG Sharpston concluded that the decision to dismiss Ms Bougnaoui constituted direct, and not just indirect, discrimination ([83] – [89]). “Religion” for these purposes included manifestations of religion like wearing a headscarf. The judgment does not directly engage with the question of how courts should identify whether a particular act constitutes a “manifestation of religion”, but the case-law of the ECtHR on that subject will doubtlessly be persuasive. The recognition that religion is not just a status but an identity partly constituted by acts is intuitively attractive and compares favourably to the sometimes strained efforts of British judges to dissociate “religion” from acts which are obviously part and parcel of a person’s religion.[3] It leaves open the interesting question of whether EU law will permit employers to sanction employees whose religiously-motivated behaviour impacts negatively on other employees or on their work (as in the well-known “evangelising at work” cases). English courts have addressed this situation by distinguishing action taken because of religion/religious manifestations and action taken because of “the way in which (a worker) manifested or shared it”.[4] AG Sharpston’s opinion can probably be reconciled with that approach.

Third, AG Sharpston concluded that there was no basis to conclude that article 4(1) of the Directive (the genuine occupational requirement defence to direct discrimination claims) applied on the facts ([90] – [102]). It was decisive that Ms Bougnaoui remained perfectly able to perform her professional duties. Notably, AG Sharpston found it “hard to envisage” any application of the article 4(1) defence in religious discrimination claims, other than on health and safety grounds ([99]). She also gave a narrow reading to article 2(5) of the Directive (pursuant to which the Directive is subject to national measures which are necessary in pursuit of various public policy objectives), suggesting it could not be relied on by employers citing business reasons ([104] – [105]).

Fourth, AG Sharpston remarked on the application of the principles of indirect discrimination (in case the Court concluded that her characterisation of the claim as direct discrimination was mistaken). While an employer’s business reasons could constitute a legitimate aim, the question of proportionality was more complex ([134]). These kinds of issues could ordinarily be resolved by discussion between employer and employee; but ultimately, where an employer stood to lose out because of the prejudiced attitudes of its customers, “the business interest in generating maximum profit should… give way to the right of the individual employee to manifest his religious convictions” ([133]).

Continue reading

Political Reductionism at its Best: Some Considerations on the EU Institutions’ Response after the UK Referendum

Giuseppe-MartinicoGiuseppe Martinico

This post first appeared on the Verfassungsblog; it is reproduced here with kind permission.

Colleagues have already commented upon the response of the EU institutions to the outcome of the referendum held on 23 June, stressing the rushed and populist attitude shown by the Commission and the EU Parliament, referring, for instance, to the exclusion of the UK from the “informal” meeting of the European Council held on 29 June and to the way in which Juncker made a joke of Nigel Farage, asking why he was in the European Parliament after the UK vote.

However, there is another episode which is very telling, about the respect shown by the “political class” towards Art. 50 of the TEU and, in general, other relevant norms to be taken into account independently from the activation of the exit procedure, like, for instance Art. 4.2 TEU demanding equal treatment of the Members States and respect of their national identity and constitutional structure.

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The EEA Agreement and the ‘Norway option’: integration without co-determination

Henrik Nordling Henrik Nordling[1]

The result of the UK’s EU referendum has thrown the EEA Agreement to the forefront as a potential template for the UK’s future relationship with the EU. The term ‘Norway option’, under its various guises, is steadily referenced to as a potential compromise. However, Norway’s relationship with the EU is relatively complex: Norway has adopted about ¾ of the EU legislation of that of an ‘ordinary’ EU Member State, but does not have any powers of determination in the EU legislative process. Norway benefits from the advantages of being part of the internal market, but does not get to decide on the rules which govern it – only adhere to them. Nonetheless, Norway is not bound by some of the EUs most hotly debated policy areas, such as agriculture, fisheries and home affairs.

An overview of Norway’s EU relationship

The UK and Norway share a common past when it comes to the EU. In 1960 Norway and the UK were part of the seven states that founded the EFTA as an alternative to what was then the European Economic Community (EEC). Then in 1962 Norway, along with the UK, Denmark and Ireland applied to join the EEC only to be met with a resound ‘non’ from Mr De Gaulle. Although the General’s veto was aimed squarely at the Anglo-Saxons across the channel, Norway suffered collateral damage. Still, the Norwegian government continued negotiations and that were completed in 1972. Parliament was overwhelmingly in favour of joining the EEC, but the question was put to a referendum – yes one of those – and the result was a quite clear ‘no’ which caused the prime minister to resign and Norway ended up with a trade agreement with the EEC instead. History has a tendency to repeat itself. Norway then had a second referendum on EU membership in 1994, but the answer was once again No. As an aside, it is worth noting that on a regional basis the Yes vote was the clear winner in Oslo and the surrounding regions whilst No blanketed the rest of the country in both referendums.

The EEA Agreement was entered into between five EFTA States (Sweden, Austria, Norway, Iceland and Finland) and the EU Member States in 1992 and entered into force in 1994. Lichtenstein became a full participant in the EEA Agreement in 1995, and in the same year Sweden, Finland and Austria left the EFTA and the EEA to join the EU. This leaves us with today’s three remaining EEA EFTA States: Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein. Switzerland, the fourth remaining EFTA State, chose to enter into a bilateral agreement with the EU.

The EEA Agreement, at its most basic level, extends the EU’s internal market to the three EEA EFTA States, granting equal rights and obligations for citizens and economic operators in the EEA. The substantive scope of the EEA Agreement thus includes, at its core, the four freedoms (goods, services, persons and capital), competition rules and State aid. In order to ensure that the internal market functions well it was also imperative to include various ‘horizontal provisions’ related to the four freedoms (such as consumer protection and environmental regulation) that serve to strengthen and support the internal market. There are also provisions relating to cooperation outside the four freedoms. These are known as ‘flanking areas’ (such as research and development, culture and education) which further strengthen the cohesion of the EEA.

However, the EEA Agreement does not cover the following EU policies: Common Agriculture and Fisheries Policies, Customs Union, Common Trade Policy, Common Foreign and Security Policy, Justice and Home Affairs and Monetary Union. Although it should be noted that EU Member States have the ability to opt out of some of these policies to a certain extent.

An interesting reflection is that the relative proportion of EEA EFTA to EU Member States was 5:12 in 1992, which is considerably better than it is now at 3:28. Whether the same agreement would be reached under this constellation is not sure.

To put it simply the EEA EFTA States adopt some, but not all of the EUs rules and only within certain policy areas that are of ‘EEA Relevance’. But this divide is not as clear as it may seem when it comes to Norway, as cooperation can and does occur within policy fields that are outside the remit of the EEA Agreement. For instance, within the field of Justice and Home Affairs, Norway is a member of the Schengen area. Within the field of Foreign and Security Policy, Norway has entered into an agreement with the EU as regards EU civilian and military operations and has participated in EU-led operations in the Balkans and the Horn of Africa. Norway also participates in Europol, the European law enforcement organisation and has entered into an agreement based on the principles of the European Arrest Warrant. Norway has thus extended its cooperation with the EU to a number of areas where the two parties share common interests that are outside of the EEA Agreement.

Administration, legislation and the lack of co-determination

Administration of the EEA Agreement is shared between the EU and the EEA EFTA States. The European Commission carries out supervisory functions within the EU and the EFTA Surveillance Authority carries out the same role for the EEA EFTA States. This has led to the term ‘one agreement, two authorities’ which rings true insofar as it denotes the existence of separate supervisory organs. Nonetheless, both work together and must ensure uniform application of the EEA rules. The task of uniform interpretation within the EEA lies with the EFTA Court, which is responsible for interpreting the EEA Agreement with regard to the EEA EFTA States. Its role is similar to that fulfilled by the EU Court of Justice with regard to the EU Member States.

In terms of legislation, the EEA Agreement adopts the principle of ‘homogeneity’ which means that the same rules and conditions apply to all economic operators within the EEA. To this end, the EEA Agreement is continuously updated and amended to mirror the current EU internal market legislation. This importantly includes the incorporation of EU secondary legislation (notably Regulations, Directive and Decisions)

Under the EU legislative process all EU Member States will have several means to influence, shape and decide on the final text. But what about Norway – as an EEA EFTA State, would it be left without a ‘say’? Well, not exactly. Through a system known as ‘decision shaping’ Norway participates in expert groups and in the preparatory work of the Commission, providing comments on green papers that are sent to the European Parliament and Council. EEA EFTA States representatives also meet with their EU counterparts in the EEA Council to provide political oversight and guidance. An EEA Joint Parliamentary Committee provides a forum for MEPs and EEA EFTA national MPs to discuss matters of joint interest. These are all different forms of indirect influence, but a crucial detail of the EEA Agreement is that it does not give the EEA EFTA States any direct involvement in the EU legislative process or decisional powers. Essentially, although Norway may have a ‘say’ it does not have a vote.

EU legislation also does not have direct effect in Norway. Rather, EEA relevant legislation will have to be ‘incorporated’ into the EEA Agreement. The task of incorporation is performed by perhaps the most central of the ‘joint’ EU/EEA bodies: the EEA Joint Committee, which incorporates EU rules by way of decision (JCD).

The process of incorporation essentially involves a dialogue between the EEA EFTA States and EFTA institutions, on the one hand, and their EU counterparts and EU institutions on the other. Each ‘side’ of the EEA Agreement must give its consent to the contemplated JCD before it can be adopted by the EEA Joint Committee. Only once a piece of secondary legislation has been incorporated does it produce effects in Norway.

A distinguishing feature of the EEA Agreement is that the EEA EFTA States have not transferred legislative powers to the EEA Joint Committee. This implies that, on occasion, the EEA EFTA States may need to obtain the approval of their national parliament in order for the JCD to be binding. This is reflected in Article 103(1) EEA and known as a ‘constitutional requirement’ which allows for the direct involvement of the EEA EFTA States’ national parliament. Ultimately, the lack of transfer of legislative power provides the EEA EFTA States with something truly unique vis-à-vis their EU counterparts: a right of reservation. In effect, an EEA EFTA State can refuse to incorporate EU legislation that is EEA relevant. This is almost never used and the consequences are unclear. Norway has used this ability only once: in regards to the Third Postal Directive in 2011. This resulted in the EU threatening to exclude Norway from parts of the single market before the Directive was finally incorporated as part of the change of Government in Norway in 2013. Continue reading

Brexit, the Referendum and the UK Parliament: Some Questions about Sovereignty

Sionaidh Douglas-Scott

So, we have the result of the Referendum, and a majority of voters have voted to leave the EU. A mantra of Leave campaigners seems to have been the desire to ‘take back control’. There has been much talk of sovereignty, although less clarity on what it actually means. However, at its most basic, there are at least three notions of sovereignty that are relevant in the context of Brexit, and they are often confused. The first is parliamentary sovereignty, which is said to have particular resonance in the UK because, due to the vagaries of the uncodified UK Constitution, the Westminster Parliament has been recognised as a body with unlimited legislative power. Yet the parliamentary sovereignty of a representative democracy may seem to be at odds with popular sovereignty as exercised in a referendum. Popular sovereignty also has other implications, such as in Scotland, where an indigenous Scottish tradition claims that sovereignty resides in the Scottish people, in spite of the alternative claims of Diceyan parliamentary sovereignty. Thirdly, there is external sovereignty: whereby a country may be sovereign and recognised as independent by the international community. But states recognise that international agreements such NATO, or EU treaties, curb sovereignty in practice. However, these constraints are willingly accepted by states because of the benefits that pooling or ceding some sovereignty can bring – indeed it can even enhance sovereignty in another sense of a state’s power or ability to deal with certain issues.

These are three different concepts of sovereignty, but they have become very confused in the context of Brexit and the UK’s relations with the EU. Now we have the results of the Referendum vote, what are the implications of ‘taking back control’ for sovereignty? This blog examines three specific issues arising in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote which reveal the extent of confusion over sovereignty.

  1. The Referendum

The referendum result is not binding

The Referendum vote is an expression of popular sovereignty. But referenda have not been a highly significant feature of UK Constitutional law in the past and there is still uncertainty as to their place in our Constitution. Labour MP David Lammy has called on Parliament to ‘stop this madness’ and to vote in Parliament against the referendum decision to leave the EU. A large majority of MPs are in favour of remaining within the EU, so Parliament would not pass legislation to leave the EU unless it felt compelled to do so by popular demand expressed through a referendum. Could Parliament actually vote against Brexit? According to classic, Diceyan notions of sovereignty, if Parliament is actually sovereign it can legislate to do anything, including to ignore a non-binding referendum. The EU in-out Referendum is a creature of the European Union Referendum Act 2015. There is no requirement in the Act that the UK Government implement its results, nor does the statute set any time limit for implementing a vote to leave the EU. It is a pre-legislative, or consultative, referendum, enabling the electorate to express its opinion before any legislation is introduced. The 1975 referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the EEC was also an example of this type. In contrast, the legislation setting up the Alternative Vote (AV) referendum held in May 2011 (Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011)  would have introduced a new system of voting without further legislation, although this did not happen because there was a large majority against change.

So whether a referendum is legally binding depends on the structure of the legislation which enables it. Parliament decides that. The UK does not have a codified constitution with provisions requiring referendum results to be implemented, unlike, for example, Ireland, where the circumstances in which a binding referendum is held are set out in its Article 47 of its Constitution. Indeed, even those UK referenda that appear to dictate consequences, such as the AV referendum, are not completely binding, in the sense that Parliament (due to parliamentary sovereignty) could in any case repeal the legislation creating the obligation.

However, although there may be no legal obligation to abide by the result of the referendum that is not the same as saying there is no political commitment to do so, and MPs may feel a strong obligation to act on the results of the vote, especially if they fear reprisals from their electorate in the form of being voted out of office at a future election. So popular sovereignty and parliamentary sovereignty appear to be at odds. Which, if either, ought to predominate? Continue reading

The Quest for EU Reform after Brexit: Changes to the Role and Doctrines of the European Court of Justice

juropean-justiceProf. Peter Lindseth

“What if…?” These kinds of questions may now seem pointless in the aftermath of the victory of Leave in the EU Referendum. Instead we hear ‘What’s done is done’, ‘Leave means Leave’, ‘out is out’, etc., etc., etc.

But one question has always nagged at me ever since David Cameron brought his renegotiation deal back to the UK in February: What if it included a serious commitment to alter the role and doctrines of the European Court of Justice? Would that have tipped the balance toward the Remain side? Would we have been talking instead about a 52-48 victory for Remain? Would serious ECJ reform, both institutionally and doctrinally, have been enough to peel off the likes of Boris Johnson from the Leave camp, harnessing his energies for Remain and reform?

We will never know. But the question is still of interest, if for no other reason than the remaining Member States must now seriously consider a range of EU reforms in order to prevent further contagion of the Brexit virus. As former German Constitutional Court Judge Gertrude Lübbe-Wolff said in an interview on Verfassungsblog, ‘the shock over what has happened, and the fear of further disintegration, might produce an awakening effect. So I try to remain optimistic’. This post is in that spirit.

Continue reading