Causes, Aftermath, and Future: The Three Stages of Brexit

Jo Eric Kushahl Murkens*

A friend of mine, who is French and lives in London, returned from holiday the day after the referendum. In an email to me, she wondered why she had bothered: she felt as though her home had been “vandalised” by half the people in the country. Most people I spoke to reported feelings of anger, shock, and disbelief in the immediate aftermath. These strong emotional reactions were entirely understandable given that their future right to work and live in the UK as EU citizens had just been put into question.

On second thoughts, however, why were we shocked? The Brexiters had run a very effective campaign, with slogans along the lines of “We want our country back” and “Let’s take back control”. The Remain camp had no response to this. David Cameron and George Osborne were simply not the right people to remind voters of this straightforward fact: it was not uncontrolled immigration from the EU that was responsible for the decline in public services throughout the country, but the austerity politics driven by Conservative Party ideology since 2010. The Brexiters had won the campaign effortlessly.

More importantly, we are not talking about mendacities, myths, and misinformation that were spread over the course of a two-month long referendum campaign. We are talking about the wilful and sustained distortion of the European project by British politicians and journalists from the very beginning, and especially since the date of accession in 1973. Could a referendum on EU membership ever have been won in the last 20 years, I ask myself? And should we not be positively surprised that almost half the British voters elected to remain in the EU?

Anger and irritation soon gave way to analysis and interpretation. The referendum was clearly not about the European Union. It revealed something significant about the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom was not unanimous, but split down the middle: Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain, England and Wales voted to leave. The two main political parties were not putting forward helpful proposals regarding Britain’s future relationship, but were in open meltdown over the Europe question. Embarrassingly, Britain had once again set itself up to fail over a serious policy choice. In 2003, Britain went to war upon the basis of unreliable information and without an exit strategy. In 2016, it conducted a referendum upon the basis of false promises and without a Brexit strategy. This is not a good time to be British, and it certainly is not a good time for Britain.

Constitutional analysis proved to be my pathway to hope and optimism. There is no way the UK can withdraw from the EU and expect to survive politically. European law is woven into the Belfast Agreement of 1998, which stands testament to a rare and recent British diplomatic achievement. It has brought peace to Northern Ireland and improved the relations between the Republic of Ireland and the UK. It is, of course, possible for the UK to leave the EU. But to begin that process without second thoughts for the Irish peace process is borderline criminal. Something similar needs to be said in relation to Scotland. The governing SNP have been quietly waiting for an excuse to hold a second independence referendum, and David Cameron has single-handedly given them a reason.

Few countries display much enthusiasm for the European Union. British people are certainly amongst the least knowledgeable in this respect. Ignorance about European institutions is one matter, but ignorance about one’s own constitution (and yes, the UK has a constitution) is unforgivable. At the very least, the 52 per cent should stop claiming that their slim majority should in any way be decisive.

As a state, the UK is neither centralised nor unified. It is de-centralised and fragmented. Scotland and Northern Ireland reveal the UK constitution at its most fragile. The new Prime Minister will need to tread very carefully. So far, only the homes of the 48 per cent have been vandalised. Pretty soon the UK, the home of 100 per cent, could cease to exist. No one voted for that in June 2016.

* This essay is from a Working Paper of the European University Institute, Department of Law, entitled “Brexit and Academic Citizenship” (LAW 2016.20, San Domenico di Fiesole 2016, available at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2871428). The paper, edited by Christian Joerges, collects a series of personal reflections on the outcome of the Brexit referendum. The essays do not engage with the legal and constitutional issues that arise from this event – these aspects have received comment elsewhere. Rather, the editor has solicited personal reflections from a group whose scholarly journey included the European University Institute, a hub for transforming, and integrating Europe. Aware of this privileged position, the authors shed light on how the result of the referendum and its aftermath may impact on the UK and the European Union.

Brexit, Post-Truth Politics and the Triumph of a Messy Vision of Democracy over Technocracy

Sandra Marco Colino*

As I watched the last US presidential debate of the 2016 election live over breakfast a few weeks ago, I recalled the last time I had spent an entire morning glued to the television screen watching political developments unfold. It was on 24 June, when the results of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union were announced live on the BBC (a perk of living in Hong Kong and being 7 hours ahead of the UK is that I can watch British election results in real time without having to pull an all-nighter). It was 11:40 am here when David Dimbleby confirmed what felt like the “chronicle of a death foretold” soon after the vote counts began to trickle in: the UK had chosen to leave the EU.

The news refused to sink in, even as I stared at the headline flashing across the screen. The outcome had a much more intense emotional impact on me than I had anticipated. On Brexit, I am both biased and non-biased: biased, as a Spaniard brought up in the UK, who has extensively exercised her rights as an EU citizen; and non-biased, for having made a career and a profession of the study of EU law for over two decades. And in my two capacities, my feelings were unanimous: my heart said remain, and my head said remain. More accurately, my head said “remain and revolt”, as I believe that the UK could have used its solid position within the EU to push for a superior process of integration. But remain nonetheless.

I have undoubtedly been shaped both as an individual and as a professional by the opportunities offered to me by my UK residency. My family moved to London when I was just 11 years old. Since then, I have spent a total of 12 crucial years living in Britain. My first job was at the University of Glasgow. Although I have retained my Spanish nationality and citizenship, and the UK may not be part of my DNA, it is most certainly a vital part of my inner fabric, and I deeply care about the country’s future, whether in or out of the EU. But equally important, I am an EU national, and I have extensively taken advantage of the myriad of privileges that this entails. I am one of the 3 million undergraduate students who have experienced what it is like to live and study in another European country (in my case, Germany) thanks to the EU’s Erasmus university exchange programme. I wrote my Ph.D. at the European University Institute in Florence with a grant partly funded by the EU. I have been a trainee at the European Commission, where I had the chance to witness EU law enforcement and policy-making as it happened. I have extensively exercised my free movement rights, having resided and/or worked in six different EU Member States. As a female and as an employee, I have benefited from gender equality protection and working conditions guaranteed by EU law. Unsurprisingly, I find it regrettable that the continuity of all of these life-changing benefits has now been compromised for UK citizens. The result of the referendum is often portrayed as a popular uprising against technocracy and élitism. However, it is unclear whether the potential loss of such privileges, even if seemingly by the will of the beneficiaries, is really a win for the British people or more of an own goal. The idea that citizens’ rights would be at the forefront of the concerns when deciding to call for a nationwide reflection on EU membership is debatable. After all, the referendum was propelled by the same political leadership that put a heavy price tag on tertiary education in some parts of the country; the very one that has pushed Britain into an age of austerity and growing inequality which the United Nations recently declared to be in breach of international human rights.

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A World After Brexit?

Michelle Everson*

Brexit has befallen us. The world is a very different place, especially on the streets of London, where the sense of disbelief is palpable, and the insecurity (even fear) is tangible, as our so recently lived-dream of non-national, culturally-disregarding, globally-cosmopolitan community finds itself under a very present threat. Yet, life goes on and, barring any further surprises, the academic world must begin to deal with the consequences of Brexit, both with regard to retrospective explanation, and with a view to opening up perspectives for the world to come.

Citizenship in Movement

“[I]t would be neither satisfactory nor true to the development of the case law to reduce freedom of movement to a mere standard of promotion of trade between member states. It is important that the freedoms of movement fit into the broader framework of the objectives of the internal market and European citizenship. At present, freedoms of movement must be understood to be one of the essential elements of the ‘fundamental status of nationals of the member states’. They represent the cross-border dimension of the economic and social status conferred on European citizens.”

[Opinion of AG Poiares Maduro in Cases C-158 & 159/04, Alfa Vita Vassilopoulos AE v Greece, 2006 E.C.R. I-8135, paragraph 192.]

In my world of (economic and constitutional) European Law, it has long been an unthinking commonplace that the legal freedoms of the Single Market coalesce seamlessly with and reinforce the character of the individual living across the space of Europe, as a European Citizen; a citizen who is made so, by virtue of their movement within, or as an ancillary to the European market. This blind collapse of the civic and social into the economic is, nevertheless, a far more incendiary one than the dry formulations of an Advocate General of the European Court of Justice might anticipate.

Writing in the European Law Review in 2004, Hans Lindahl sought to remind European lawyers of the continuing currency of boundaries and barriers to movement in notions of exclusionary belonging, of the on-going relevance of Hannah Arendt’s concept of “spatiality”. Investigating the consequences of an emergent European “securitisation” discourse, Lindahl noted that spatiality is:

“[N]ot merely a geographical term. It relates not so much, and not primarily, to a piece of land as to the space between individuals in a group whose members are bound to, and at the same time separated and protected from each other by all kinds of relationships, based on a common language, religion, a common history, customs, and laws.”

 For all of its roots in a putative act of post-national liberal constitution, the old European continent was and is still prey to pre-political expressions of belonging; a communitarian impulse, then silently evinced in the binary distinction between those who were and those who were not “legally-resident” within the European space, and now explicitly re-asserted within myriad acts of individual brutality in the holding camps of Turkey and of Greece – our new EU colonial “protectorate”. Neither Libyans, Ghanaians, Congolese nor Pakistanis, it seems, may simply seek their citizenship within the movements of the European market.

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Thinking Personally about Brexit

Mark Dawson*

I entered the EUI in 2005 as one of a dozen or so researchers from the UK. A running joke at the time was to do a quick round of the Mensa, or refectory, staring at tables of French sitting with French, German with German, Greek with Greek, etc., and remark what a success European academic integration had been! The broader truth, though, was that this was real integration – not just of chemicals and Cassis de Dijon, but of friends of all nationalities – sharing ideas, sharing drinks (and, of course, rather often sharing beds, too). It was an integration of peoples.

It is little surprise that those of us in the UK who returned to our home countries or filtered off elsewhere in Europe and the world were normally committed europhiles, even if we often pretended otherwise to ourselves. We had experienced what Neil Fligstein dubbed the “Euroclash” in person: we were the privileged, mobile few for whom the EU had provided four years of quiet reflection and good food in paradise. We also faced the shock of following UK politics from afar, or experiencing it in reality once home. For us, the EU was part and parcel of who we were. For our fellow Britons, it was a foreign entity. This identity clash explains part of what I can imagine is a common feeling among many contributors to this publication: the UK’s very rejection of integration makes it a somewhat foreign entity for me now too.

The integration of people had simply not occurred. Britons ventured abroad but often simply to buy flats in UK bubbles in the Costa del Sol, or to be a part of a different trans-national project – the vestiges of the old Commonwealth that offered the promise of freedom and prosperity not in Berlin but in Brisbane. Meanwhile, those who came to British shores were rather too easily cast as outsiders (people who were here as part of a market, to cash-in, rather than to contribute to society). This was not free movement but “economic migration”; it was not a reciprocal exercise but the entry of outsiders on the take (for “our jobs”, “our benefits”, and “our homes”). The reaction recalls the debate over gay rights a decade ago – one’s affinity to the cause was often not determined by political, but by personal affiliation: Do you know someone who is gay and are you able to step into their shoes? (hence, the priority of coming out to the LGBTQ movement). Too few people had a stake in the EU project, and too few were able to identify with those who did. Too few could make it onto that Tuscan hill with us.

Surely, the question that Brexit poses to all of us committed to, or simply interested in, the EU is how to build that stake. How does the EU become something that can be defended not just at the level of trade statistics, but as a personal and political project? One has the feeling that, without this connection, without a sense of commitment to Europeanism, however thin, the EU has no hope of facing down the next catastrophe. The dis-integration of the Union is not, in this sense, a question of self-interest and preferences – if it were, the people of the UK (already enjoying a cherry-picked version of integration) would have been easily bought over – but a question of whether people perceive Europe as being a part of the “self” that defines their interests.

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“I want my Country Back!”: Equality, Discrimination and Xenophobia after the Referendum

Diamond Ashiagbor*

We’ve been asked to offer some personal reflections, hopefully mediated by scholarly insight, on the UK referendum vote on EU membership. The quotation in my title comes from the rallying cry of the “Leave” campaign. The resonance of that slogan with the claim of Donald Trump to “Make America Great Again” is telling, as both imply a nostalgia, or rather a fantasy, for a lost state: one which is fully “sovereign”, unfettered by international or supranational obligations, freed from the constraints of a liberalised global trading regime whose rules it had been responsible for crafting, and – most significantly – almost entirely free from migrants.

Before the Vote

I voted “Remain” in the UK referendum for all the obvious reasons. Because I believe the EU, for all its faults and its challenges to the “embedded liberal bargain” which many Member States had been able to strike within their national economies, represents the best chance for cross-national solidarity and some defence against unfettered global capital. Because I didn’t want to see the most openly racist political campaign that I can recall since coming to the UK in 1975 as – yes – a migrant, succeed. Because I think the UK’s social and economic ills (the housing crisis, with housing-cost inflation outstripping stagnant wages, the lack of investment in social housing, the prevalence of a high-cost, high-turnover private rented sector; the underfunding of the National Health Service; vicious austerity policies; and the failure to alleviate the devastating social costs of the post-industrial decline) are the fault of elected national politicians not the fault of the EU or of immigrants. Because I would like to hope that the UK could remain a (relatively) open, reflective, socially progressive country.

 False Statements and First Impressions

 The key legislation governing eligibility to vote and the conduct of elections in the UK, consolidating and replacing earlier statutes, is the Representation of the People Act (RPA) 1983. The European Referendum Act 2015, in Section 4, made provision to incorporate most aspects of electoral law from the RPA 1983 into the referendum process. However, whilst Section 106 of the RPA makes it an offence to make false statements “for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate at the election”, there was no attempt to introduce a false statement offence tailored to the different circumstances of a referendum vote – i.e., where voters are not choosing between candidates, but between different answers to a question.

Opinions vary as to the merits of attempting legislatively to compel a form of “truth in political advertising” – e.g., the risks to freedom of speech and the risk of the judicialisation of politics versus the reality of the weakness of political sanctions and the weakness of the media role in generating informed debate. But it is certainly the case that the absence of any real guidance to voters during a febrile referendum campaign left voters, as Claus Offe notes in this paper, to their own individual means of will formation.

As it was, the Leave campaign blatantly lied about an imminent accession to the EU of Turkey, about the UK’s net contribution, about eurozone bailouts, about the mechanics of trade, about the NHS, about threats to national security, and, of course, about immigration. It was relatively silent about, or downplayed, the impact of a “Leave” vote on the markets, Sterling, the union and the retention of Scotland within that union, the border with the Republic of Ireland, the Gibraltar/Spain border, the frontier at Calais, the need to continue compliance with all EU regulations in order to retain membership of the single market, the ease and impact of negotiating trade deals with non-EU states, the status of UK citizens in other EU states, EU citizens in the UK, acquired rights, and the status of legislation transposed from EU law under the authority of the European Communities Act 1972. They were also dismissive of “experts”: economists, foreign policy analysts, legal scholars and practitioners, historians, other Europeans, and world leaders.

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Europe Unwell, yet Alive

Some Personal Reflections on the Brexit Referendum*

Christian Joerges, Berlin – Bremen

“What a disaster! Why did this happen and what does this mean?” – I had spent the days before the referendum in London, listened to a good number of intense, at times heated, debates – and left the “formerly United Kingdom” with both concerns and confidence – with the latter, however, remaining more weighty. The late evening news of 23 June 2016 confirmed my confidence. The awaking on the next morning, however, was all the more disturbing. Since then, we have all been continuously flooded with explanations, predictions, political signals. An essay-culture has been generated at turbo-speed both within the UK and “overseas”. There are highly informative high quality comments and blogs en masse which explore each and every aspect of post-Brexit constellations. The quality of these debates contrasts wonderfully with the emotionalised pre-Brexit “Leave” and “Remain” campaigns. We continentals learn about the complexities of the UK’s constitutional constellation, the ideational impact of historical experiences and traditions, the anxieties and anger of the dispossessed classes, and the downfall of the Labour party. These introspections are highly instructive for the non-British Union. They contribute to an improved awareness of Europe’s political and socio-economic diversity. Would it make sense to follow requests to join in these great and moving debates? Considering this query, I remembered Karl Valentin’s legendary barzelletta: “Everything has been said – but not by everybody.” Some uneasiness remained and grew, however. Within all these intellectual reflections on Brexit, I found little about the personal concerns which had generated my own spontaneous response to the result of the referendum. This is unsurprising in so far as my emotional confusion and conceptual irritations were that of a Doktorvater who had accompanied so many Ph.D students at the law department of the European University Institute in their research, and stayed in contact with a good number of them after they had embarked upon their academic careers. The students at the EUI come from all the Member States. For decades, the UK had welcomed them. British academia profited from this welcome culture – and so did our students. EUI graduates are, of course, a random sample of European citizens, but nevertheless one of exemplary importance. The EUI graduates have been Europeanised through their studies, through their co-operation with “foreigners” among their professors and fellow-students: they have become truly European academic citizens.

As a German professor, you are supposed to provide some theoretical framing for your intuitions and arguments. In the case in hand, a particularly ambitious framework suggests itself, namely, Jürgen Habermas’ theory of transnational democracy, which seeks to explain why the development of this new type of democracy is “Necessary and How it is Possible”. At the core of this explanation is Habermas’ theorem of the co-originality of the national and the European identities of the citizens of the EU, which he had first submitted in 2012. The innovative move that Habermas undertook is normatively fascinating. With his synthesising of national and European identities, the integration project becomes one of us, the citizens of the Union. Integration envisages our common future and a transnational political commitment. The anchoring of the project in the identities of Europe’s citizenry is a defence of its normative integrity, which seeks to liberate it from the merely economic or technocratic rational upon which the Monnet method of “integration by stealth” had relied. To appreciate the normative stringency and coherence of Habermas’ theorems, however, is not to believe in their political potential and socio-economic compatibility with the really existing state of the Union. The idea of a synthesis of national and European identities which would provide the basis for a transnational will-formation and solidarity contrasts sharply with the multitude of historical experiences, cultural traditions and political preferences, and, most importantly, with the ever deepening socio-economic diversity and the variety and institutionalised societal configurations which are generated by this background. The fragility of Habermas’ vision comes to the fore, albeit inadvertently, in  Habermas’ post-Brexit interview, published in DIE ZEIT on 9 July 2016 (see English translation): “It never entered my mind”, the philosopher submits in his reflections on the outcome of the referendum, “that populism would defeat capitalism in its country of origin. Given the existential importance of the banking sector for Great Britain and the media power and political clout of the City of London, it was unlikely that identity questions would prevail against interests.” What I find particularly remarkable here is Habermas’ apparent irritation. He not only recognises a mismatch between his visions and the actual conflict constellations as they were articulated in the “Remain” and “Leave” campaigns which was simply unforeseen in his theoretical framing of the development of a European transnational democracy, he is also prepared to draw drastic consequences. The “Development of the European Union into a Transnational Democracy”, he concludes, is only conceivable in a “properly functioning core Europe” composed of the members of the Eurozone – with the common currency operating as the empirical background of the reconciliation and merger of national and European identities. The tensions between Habermas’ normative vision and the political and socio-economic divergence of the Union in general, and of the eurozone in particular, seem as obvious as they are irresolvable within the Habermasian conceptualisation of the development of the integration project. Decades ago, in much more comforting times, Wolfgang Streeck criticised Habermas’ plea for a European constitution (see English translation) as all too voluntaristic. This seems more valid than ever.

This critique of Habermas’ visions is not meant to downplay the deep impact of the integration process on our identities as European citizens. Even the more mundane implications and effects can be valuable and are politically significant. To start with the seemingly mundane: European freedoms have granted us much more than the right to travel freely, to go shopping abroad, to profit from price differentials and to do all this without constantly changing our money. We, the academics, have instead been exposed to a host of new experiences, could learn from the encounters with “the others”, their academic cultures and practices; we could become aware of the specifics of our own traditions, contrast them with our new experiences, re-evaluate what we had grown up with and re-orient our work. These are gains and benefits which are highly contingent, often inextricably linked with periods of insecurity and recurring anxieties about individual futures. The Europeanisation of our identities neither occurred uniformly, nor can we easily identify their accumulated societal benefits and burdens. How will Brexit impact on what has happened to us and what has been accomplished by the concerned academic communities. Can the UK count on protective effects for their own young academics? Should the continentals be happy that they no longer subsidise the education of the British Isles? Should they be grateful for the diminution of the brain drain that they have endured thanks to the openness of British academia? Is it at all adequate to evaluate the effects of Brexit in such terms? What we can be sure of is that Brexit is also exposing us to cultural shocks and effects on academic biographies which even hard core economic analysts will hesitate to decipher. We should also be on guard for the ensuing collateral political damages. Threats which individuals feel exposed to – whether rightly or wrongly = have the potential to contaminate social relations. How confident can we be about the resistance of Europeanised academic communities against narrow-minded re-nationalisation, the rebirth of animosities and the return of stereotypes?

The latter considerations concern our privileged status. The Europeanisation of Europe’s citizens did not occur uniformly, but is characterised by deep asymmetries. Neil Fligstein, in his seminal, if widely neglected, study, estimates that only a small élite of 10-15 per cent has derived considerable gains from the integration process, whereas a middle group of 40-50 per cent has profited only occasionally, and a final set of 40-50 per cent of Europeans experience Europeanisation as an existential threat. Fligstein has correlated these findings with the differentiated support of the Integration project. In the light of his figures and findings, the erosion of the Union’s legitimacy, the rise of European populism, and the outcome of the British referendum do not come as such a big surprise. We, the European academics in general, and those affiliated with the European University Institute in particular, are certainly among the cluster of European élites who have, on the whole, profited very considerably. But how stable is our privileged status? How firmly established are the values which the Europeanisation of our academic lives has promoted? How autonomous is the academic system in a political environment which changes dramatically? Will we be sensitive to the threats of Brexit and strong enough to build up resistance?

These queries reach beyond the immediate concerns which the essays assembled in this working paper address. They mirror a great variety of individual biographies, political views and personal ambitions. What they have in common is the sorrow about European cultural accomplishments, which are not merely economic benefits but cultural enrichments experienced and realised in the encounters with and recognition of European citizens from other nations. We hope to raise awareness for processes which are looming with a disquieting potential.


*     This essay is from a Working Paper of the European University Institute, Department of Law, entitled “Brexit and Academic Citizenship” (LAW 2016.20, San Domenico di Fiesole 2016, available here. The paper, edited by Christian Joerges, collects a series of personal reflections on the outcome of the Brexit referendum. The essays do not engage with the legal and constitutional issues that arise from this event – these aspects have received comment elsewhere. Rather, the editor has solicited personal reflections from a group whose scholarly journey included the European University Institute, a hub for transforming, and integrating Europe. Aware of this privileged position, the authors shed light on how the result of the referendum and its aftermath may impact on the UK and the European Union.

The problems associated with associate citizenship of the EU

Dr Adrienne Yongyong

It is fair to say that since June 23, 2016 – the day the UK voted to leave the EU –the 48.1% of the electorate that voted to remain have voiced some concerns. Indeed, many of the concerns expressed by this minority are shared by EU citizens residing in the UK who were unable to vote in the referendum, with none more important than the idea of rights to free movement within the EU. The concept which grants rights such as residency, entry and exit from the territory of EU Member States without prejudice is EU citizenship. Article 45 TFEU also encompasses some of these same rights, but applies only to workers. In contrast, EU citizenship status, enshrined in Article 20 TFEU, is granted to all Member State nationals by virtue of their Member State nationality. As made clear in that provision, EU citizenship does not replace nationality but is additional to it. This status was first introduced 24 years ago, in the Maastricht Treaty 1992. The most recent study in 2012 showed that a third of the population of foreign citizens in EU Member States are individuals from other EU Member States, indicative of large volume of people who have made use of their rights to free movement.

Associate citizenship of the EU

With the vote to leave the EU and the subsequent process of withdrawal that the UK must now undergo, it is clear that EU citizenship will no longer be a status accorded to British nationals. Though nothing is set in stone as yet, this much is fairly clear. However, this would mean British nationals can no longer enjoy the rights to free movement and residency that are currently enjoyed by all EU citizens. Plainly, this is one of the consequences that Britain must be prepared to accept as it negotiates its exit in the coming years. Unsurprisingly, there have been voices of discontent from sections of the “Remain” electorate about the unilateral “stripping” of their EU citizenship and calls for some consideration of a voluntary citizenship of the EU for British citizens. Most recently, this has crystallised in the form of Amendment 882, brought before the European Parliament by MEP Charles Goerens, to offer citizens from a former Member State what would be known as “associate citizenship”. The Amendment offers a new regime for discussion amongst high level EU officials. This is the most thoroughly considered of all the suggestions thus far on any alternative arrangement for British citizens post-Brexit. In contrast, other suggestions concerning the retention of citizenship rights after Brexit have not been as formal as Amendment 882 and are also less specific about solutions to the problem of losing of EU citizenship status after Brexit. The proposal here is for an opt-in with payment of a membership fee; in return, individuals would have some of the rights guaranteed by the Treaty under Articles 21-22 TFEU: to free movement, to residency, and to vote and stand for election in the European Parliament. The right to consular protection, petitioning the European Parliament, recourse to the Ombudsman and right to communication from EU institutions in the citizens’ own language are not included. The effect therefore, would be retention of a form of citizenship of the EU.

It is clear where this sentiment is coming from. While the referendum was won by “Leave”, over 16 million people in the UK did vote to remain in the EU. It is assumed that these voters would have wanted to retain the benefits of being part of the supranational entity, including EU citizenship and its associated rights. Furthermore, EU citizenship has been granted to the entire British population and these individuals feel that they did not choose for it to be taken away from them. Indeed, as a right that impacts the majority of the population in the EU, its loss will be felt by many. Speculation is already rife about the visa requirements for British citizens in the EU after Brexit. Therefore, the outcry arguing in favour of a way to retain EU citizenship and its requisite rights is unsurprising. However, there is equal outcry about associate citizenship of the EU as a solution.

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The Miller judgment: Why the Government should argue that Article 50 is reversible

Prof Phil Syrpissyrpis

Last week’s judgment in the High Court is a ringing endorsement of the sovereignty of Parliament. It asserts that ‘Parliament can, by enactment of primary legislation, change the law of the land in any way it chooses’ (at [20]). It explains why the ‘subordination of the Crown (ie executive government) to law is the foundation of the rule of law in the United Kingdom’ (at [26]), including references to the bedrock of the UK’s Constitution, the Glorious Revolution, the Bill of Rights, and constitutional jurist AV Dicey’s An Introduction to the Law of the Constitution. The Crown has broad powers on the international plane, for example to make and unmake treaties, but as a matter of English law, these powers reach their limits where domestic law rights are affected. EU law, by virtue of the European Communities Act 1972 (described again as a constitutional statute), does indeed have direct effect in domestic law. As a result of the fact that the decision to withdraw from the European Union would have a direct bearing on various categories of rights outlined in the judgment (at [57]-[61]), the Crown cannot, without the approval of Parliament, give notice under Article 50.

This strong statement of the rights of Parliament ought, in a rational world, to appeal to the instincts of leave supporters. At least part of the point of voting to leave the European Union was to ‘take back control’ from unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, and to return that power to the UK. In the same way as ‘we’ want to have control over the decision-making process in the EU, ‘we’ might also want to have some control over the actions of our (at least arguably, in this instance, also unelected) Government. The High Court’s judgment amounts to the simple assertion that, according to our Constitution, ‘we’ exercise this control via Parliament (and not, for example, via a ‘mandate’ given to the Crown by the result of the referendum (see [105]-[106])). The reaction of many on the leave side – and the Daily Mail deserves a particular mention for Friday’s front page – is a sad indictment of the state of debate in this country.

Unless the Government changes its argument when the decision is appealed (and the hearing is due in early December), the Supreme Court, too, is likely to decide that, according to the UK’s own constitutional requirements, the decision to trigger Article 50 is for Parliament, not the Government. Already, there is fevered speculation surrounding the likely reactions in Government, in the Commons and the Lords, and the devolved assemblies.

And yet, the judgment proceeds on the basis of ‘common ground’ between the parties that ‘a notice under Article 50(2) cannot be withdrawn, once it is given’ [10]. This, it turns out, is significant for the High Court. The reason why the Crown cannot give notice under Article 50, is that domestic law rights will, inexorably, be affected by the decision. In various parts of the judgment, the decision to give notice under Article 50 is treated as equivalent to the decision to withdraw from the EU.

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High Court Brexit judgment: do all roads lead to Luxembourg?

Albert Sanchez Graellsbalanced-scale

This is a lightly edited version of a post that first appeared on the How to Crack a Nut blog. 

The High Court has now issued its Judgment in the dispute about the UK Parliament’s necessary approval of a Brexit notification–see R (Miller) -V- Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [2016] EWHC 2768 (Admin). It has ruled that such Parliamentary approval is indeed required as a matter of UK constitutional and public law. The Government has already announced that it will appeal this decision to the UK Supreme Court (UKSC). The implications of such an appeal are important and need to be carefully considered. One such possible consequence is that the appeal (indirectly) brings the case to the docket of the  Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

In my view, an appeal of the High Court’s Judgment before the UKSC will indeed trigger a legal requirement under EU law for the UKSC to send a reference for a preliminary ruling to the CJEU. I have rehearsed most of my arguments on twitter earlier (see here and here) and this posts brings them together.

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The remarkable Government case in the Art 50 litigation

Prof. Piet Eeckhoutpiet-eeckhout

[This piece was originally posted on the London-Brussels One-Way or Return blog and is re-posted here with kind permission.]

It is now about a week since the hearings concluded in the litigation, before the High Court, on whether the UK Government can trigger Art 50 TEU, or whether instead an Act of Parliament is required. The transcript of the hearing makes for fascinating reading. We will have to see what the judges decide, but I cannot refrain from making the point that the Government’s case is weak. Government lawyers are of course confined in what they can argue, and what not, by what their client, i.e. politics, wants. It seems like the client has not dealt them a good hand. For the Government’s case is built around a set of propositions which are in huge tension with one another. They are:

  • The 2015 Referendum Act, which organised the referendum, did not confer on the Government the power to trigger Art 50. At most, it did not disturb a pre-existing power (the Royal Prerogative).
  • The Art 50 notification cannot be revoked. In the words of Lord Pannick QC, once the bullet has left the gun it will definitely hit the target: exit after 2 years, or at such time as the withdrawal agreement enters into force.
  • The Government can make treaties and withdraw from them. But for there to be effect in domestic law of either the making a treaty, or withdrawing from it, Parliament must be involved. This last proposition is confirmed in the following, fascinating exchange.

“THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: I think, sorry, if I understood my Lord’s question, you accept that if the government wanted to amend the treaties or withdraw from them so that effect was given to withdrawal in domestic law, there would have to be an Act of Parliament.

THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yes.

THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: Whether it is amending or withdrawing, it doesn’t make any difference.

         THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yes.

THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE: I think that was the point. It is the effectiveness in domestic law. There is no difference between amending and withdrawing, you have to have a statute?

THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yes, in order for there to be an effect in domestic law we accept that Parliament’s involvement would be necessary.”

At the end of this exchange the Attorney-General confirms that Parliament’s involvement would be necessary to give domestic effect to Brexit. In other words, the Government could negotiate a withdrawal agreement, but such an agreement could take effect in UK law (much like the conclusion of a new treaty) only if Parliament legislated to such effect. But this is contradicted by proposition (2). That proposition accepts that, once the trigger has been pulled, withdrawal is outside the Government’s control. It will happen, whether the Parliament legislates or not. Crucially, this includes the effect in domestic law. The UK cannot, in its domestic law, keep all extinguished EU membership rights and obligations alive. That is so, quite simply, because at least some of those rights and obligations require membership, and the cooperation of the EU institutions and other Member States. Just one example: UK citizens will no longer be able to vote for the European Parliament, after withdrawal, and it is wholly irrelevant whether the UK Parliament leaves such a right on its statute book or not.

In the Government’s case withdrawal is therefore completely different from the law and practice of negotiating and approving new EU Treaties (or amendments to them) – contrary to what it claims. That law and practice is such that a new Treaty cannot enter into force unless it has been ratified by each member State in accordance with its constitutional requirements (i.e. approved by its parliament): see Art 48 TEU (there is a simplified revision procedure, but even that allows national parliaments to block). The logic is that the EU does not finally agree new rights and obligations until all national parliaments have approved them, and incorporated them into domestic law. So the logic of the prerogative not interfering with domestic legislation is fully respected for the negotiation of new treaties. But for withdrawal the Attorney General effectively argues the reverse: the UK Government can decide on withdrawal, including its inescapable domestic effect, and it doesn’t need Parliament’s approval.

Proposition (1) is relevant because it means that the Government is not arguing that the 2015 Referendum Act conferred a power on it to give effect to a negative referendum result, by triggering Art 50. So Parliament never authorised the triggering, and it cannot, once the bullet has left, undo withdrawal, either at the international plane or at the domestic level.

I cannot see how these three propositions could be reconciled. The most remarkable one, from the perspective of the Government’s case, is the second. If the Government argued that the Brexit bullet can be pulled back to the gun – in other words that the UK Government could always revoke the notification – there would be a much stronger case for the exercise of the prerogative, as many have noted. Parliament could then, at any stage of the negotiations, force the Government to withdraw from withdrawal. But for political reasons the Government doesn’t argue this. The big question looming over the litigation is whether the courts can simply assume that the Art 50 notification is irrevocable, when that point is so critical.