An abrupt withdrawal could undermine our political systems, says a former British government legal adviserby Philip Allott / September 12, 2018 / Leave a comment
“Wars are not won by evacuations.” So said Winston Churchill on 4th June 1940 after the evacuation from Dunkirk. If the UK were to withdraw helter-skelter from the European Union on 29th March 2019 without an agreement, it would certainly not be the dawning of peace in our time. It would be the beginning of a disorderly reconstruction of the British constitution and legal system, the British economy, and Britain’s place in the world.
Liberal democracy cannot bear very much chaos. The wonderful achievement of a good liberal democratic society is that it is able to combine stability and progress using immensely sophisticated homeostatic mechanisms designed to manage change, systems developed over centuries of trial and error, a process reminiscent of evolution by natural selection.
Britain does not have much experience of revolutions. In the 19th century, Britain was the only major European power that avoided violent revolution. The British parliament became a “revolutionary body,” said Engels. According to the Duke of Wellington, as prime minister, it was “revolution by due process of law.” Breakdown in the rule of law after a “no deal” withdrawal from the EU could cause a general breakdown in our constitutional systems.
If, in the run-up to 29thMarch, no agreement is struck, the UK could withdraw its notification of intention to withdraw, telling the European Council that it had changed its mind. It could work to get the two-year time-limit extended, given that the time-limit is manifestly absurd in the case of the UK. Or it could decide to withdraw without an agreement.
Whose decision would that be? The executive branch of government (HMG)? HMG with the approval of parliament? HMG with the approval of the people? Or a joint and several act of omission? Given that the decision could produce catastrophic effects, it is quite important to know who would be responsible for it. We all have a responsibility to try to foresee its hopelessly unforeseeable consequences.
The first level of chaos in the event of no deal would be at the level of everyday law. When the UK joined the European Communities in 1973, Lord Denning, a then famous judge, said that EU law is an incoming tide. It seeps into everywhere. It is…