04:16, August 23 158 0 theguardian.com

2017-08-23 04:16:03
UK will keep 'half an eye' on ECJ rulings after Brexit, says justice minister

Justice minister Dominic Raab has conceded the UK would keep “half an eye” on rulings by the European Union’s highest court after Brexit as the government appeared to soften its stance on how heavily the bloc would influence UK law.

However, Raab played down the idea that a government document ruling out the European court of justice holding “direct jurisdiction” on UK matters left room for the ECJ to exercise influence on British law.

A flurry of Brexit policy papers, due to be published on Wednesday, will repeat the government’s insistence that the authority of the ECJ must end when Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.

Q&A

What is the European court of justice (ECJ)?

The Luxembourg-based ECJ rules on disputes over EU treaties and legislation; cases can be brought by governments, EU institutions, companies or citizens. Leaving the ECJ’s jurisdiction has been one of the government’s requirements for Brexit. See our full Brexit phrasebook.

But it will set out a range of options for resolving future disputes between Britain and the EU – over the rules of any new trade deal, for example – some of which are likely to involve European judges, or the application of ECJ case law.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Raab, who campaigned for Vote Leave in the run-up to the referendum, said the model “most likely” to be adopted after Brexit to resolve disputes between the UK and EU would involve an EU-appointed arbitrator, as well as a UK appointee.

“When we leave the EU, we’re taking back control over our laws,” he said. “There will be divergence between the case law of the EU and the UK. It is precisely because there will be that divergence as we take back control that it makes sense for the UK to keep half an eye on the case law of the EU, and for the EU to keep half an eye on the case law for the UK.”

But Raab denied an arbitration panel would in essence be a court by another name and refuted suggestions that the government had recently introduced the word “direct” into paperwork dealing with the “direct jurisdiction” of the ECJ because the alternative they were putting forward was essentially the same.

“The EU has never had an international agreement whereby disputes are settled by the ECJ,” he said.

Asked if “foreign” judges and lawyers would continue to bear influence on UK law after Brexit, in an allusion to some of the rhetoric used by the Vote Leave campaign, Raab replied: “All this jingoistic stuff about foreign courts and foreign judges and lawyers is not language I’ve ever used.”

Judicial independence is a totemic issue for Brexiters, and Theresa May sought to reassure them in her Lancaster House speech in January that she would “take back control of our laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European court of justice in Britain”.

The prime minister added: “Leaving the European Union will mean that our laws will be made in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. And those laws will be interpreted by judges not in Luxembourg but in courts across this country.”

Opposition politicians said the papers released on Wednesday represented a U-turn by ministers.

The shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, said: “The repeated reference to ending the ‘direct jurisdiction’ of the ECJ is potentially significant. This appears to contradict the red line laid out in the prime minister’s Lancaster House speech and the government’s white paper, which stated there could be no future role of the ECJ and that all laws will be interpreted by judges in this country.”

He added: “Nothing the government says it wants to deliver from Brexit – be it on trade, citizens’ rights or judicial cooperation – can be achieved without a dispute resolution system involving some role for European judges.”

The Liberal Democrat leader, Vince Cable, said: “We welcome this sensible and long overdue climbdown by the prime minister. It shows Theresa May’s red lines are becoming more blurred by the day.

“The government seems to have belatedly accepted it won’t be possible to end the EU court’s influence in the UK without damaging our free trade and security cooperation with Europe.”

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