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17 May 2017

ECJ ruling scuppers Brexit saboteurs

Brexit saboteurs in European national parliaments have been handed a brutal blow by a shock ruling from the European Court of Justice, which has declared that a post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and the European Union will not require ratification in each member state.

The move will give more power to British negotiators following out exit from the crumbling bloc, with hopes now raised that they will be able to strike a comprehensive trade agreement with European officials without national parliaments being able to strike down a pact for narrow reasons. For months bitter Remoaners have acted as cheerleaders against our capacity to strike a trade deal, and now yet another of their fear tactics has been exposed by events.

The ruling

The decision came from a question about the EU’s trade arrangement with Singapore, with the ECJ determining that the European institutions are empowered to hash out the key terms of a trade deal without the interference of the EU member states, which . Now the deal will simply need to be agreed by a qualified majority of member states, without getting bogged down in the sectional interests of particular parts of the bloc – except for relatively minor passages regarding non-direct foreign investment and appropriate mechanisms for investor-state dispute resolution.

This means that the European Union can agree rules on goods and services, intellectual property, competition policy, information exchange, and labour market and environmental standards. The implication is that UK negotiators will now be freed from possible interruptions caused by the constitutions of European nations with a heavy emphasis on devolved powers and localism, like the objection of Belgium’s Walloonian regional parliament which nearly crippled the EU-Canada trade agreement last year.

Expert opinion

But regardless of the small caveats regarding foreign investment and dispute resolution, the ruling generally opens the door for a smoother road to an eventual trade deal with the European Union. Speaking about the ruling, Professor Steve Peers of Essex University said that “the Court of Justice says all services – even transport – can be ratified by a qualified majority vote, which is potentially quite a big opening for the UK. It could certainly make things easier”.

Nicole Kar of law giant Linklaters was also clear: “this is the most significant ECJ case on EU trade policy for twenty years and has huge ramifications for any UK-EU FTA. In policy terms, now the UK government will want to consider whether it moderates its ambition for the UK-EU FTA to those matters where there is exclusive competence in order to secure agreement through EU member state governments by qualified majority voting”.

Allie Renison of the Institute of Directors chimed in too, claiming that “how this affects Brexit negotiations will depend on whether the final trade agreement includes investment provisions or not, although neither the UK or EU has expressed much interest in this to date. It’s important to remember that any eventual UK-EU trade agreement would not be about opening up each other’s markets in controversial areas, but trying to limit the amount of disruption to trade, and so it is unlikely to encounter the same resistance from other EU countries once concluded by the Commission.”

The consensus is plain for all to see: the pathway to a mutually beneficial trade deal that allows a sovereign, independent Britain to trade with her neighbours – without submitting to mad policies like free movement – just got clearer.