They aren't just rowing over the divorce bill—a furore over the ECJ reveals the scale of the challenge May faces in uniting her own party on Brexitby Alex Dean / October 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
As the Article 50 timer approaches the seven month mark, Britain can’t seem to make up its mind on half the Brexit questions confronting it. Recent internal disagreement over the “divorce bill” has driven this home, but here I want to tackle the future role for the European Court of Justice, which applies EU law across member states including—for now—the UK. This issue, too, is causing its share of bickering.
Britain clearly needs a mechanism for resolving disputes with the EU post-Brexit. The ECJ could technically perform this function, but the “Leave” vote last year is widely viewed as a vote to take back control from EU judges. Brexiteers on the backbenches are therefore firmly of the view that Britain must ditch the Luxembourg court and find another arbiter.
Theresa May duly made ending the jurisdiction of the ECJ a Brexit “red line,” but for months we knew little more about the official position, with just the occasional snatch of news from the odd government paper.
Last week, however, there was a sudden change: May said that the ECJ would, in fact, continue to have a role during the Brexit transition period she had announced in Florence. The challenge of finding—or creating—a new Court would wait.
While leading Remainers will be thrilled, this move has infuriated hardline Eurosceptics, who want to “reclaim sovereignty” as soon as possible.
That mere delay on a technical issue can provoke open disagreement is indicative of the fraught political situation May finds herself in. Half her MPs want a Brexit revolution, the other half want gradual tweaks to the current model.
For the former, May’s concession is a betrayal. Bernard Jenkin, Conservative MP for Harwich and Essex and leading Eurosceptic, did not hesitate to criticise the government position, saying May’s team will find the change “completely unnecessary” once they think it through.
He isn’t alone. Peter Lilley, former shadow chancellor and another prominent Brexiteer, told me that the ECJ should have no role during any interim period since “[w]e will not be able to negotiate trade deals, especially involving services, until we get back control over our laws from the EU and its Court.”
“If the ECJ still has jurisdiction, we will not have left the EU”
Their comments echo criticism by high-profile Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who said after the…