House of Commons Library

Brexit questions in national and EU courts

Published Monday, December 10, 2018

It has been predicted that Brexit issues will give rise to many legal actions in UK and other Member States' courts, and the Court of Justice of the EU. While there have not yet been a great many, several cases have been brought by UK citizens living in other EU Member States, while other cases have been interesting for their implications for the UK's future relations with the EU. This paper looks at issues that have been the subject of legal action in UK and EU courts.

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What questions have been raised?

Since the EU referendum in June 2016, several questions have been raised in national courts in the UK and other EU Member States and before the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) that concern Brexit – some directly, some indirectly. Several have been about the Brexit process in the UK and under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU); others concern, for example, the implications of Brexit for citizens’ rights, UK extradition requests and matters of EU law that could be significant for future EU-UK relations.

Questions about the Brexit process

  • the exclusion of long-term expatriates from voting in the EU referendum
  • electoral irregularities in the referendum campaign
  • the UK Parliament’s role in triggering Article 50 TEU (the Miller case)
  • the legality of the European Commission’s ban on Brexit discussions with the UK before the triggering of Article 50 TEU
  • the legality of the Brexit negotiations
  • the revocability of Article 50 TEU

Other matters

  • EU citizenship rights
  • the extradition of convicted criminals to the UK under European Arrest Warrants
  • EU trademark protection
  • dispute settlement mechanisms and the autonomy of EU law

Funding of campaigns

Several of the challenges have been crowdfunded, mostly coordinated by the ‘Good Law Project’ and led by Jolyon Maugham QC. 

Outcomes?

For the most part, the citizens’ challenges have not progressed to or been successful at the CJEU, but there have nonetheless been some significant developments in the UK and EU courts.        

         Miller

  • The Miller case resulted in the UK Parliament enacting legislation to authorise the triggering of Article 50, rather than the Government doing so under prerogative powers.

         Wightman

  • In Miller it was taken as given that the notification made under Article 50 TEU was irrevocable, and the point was not argued despite its potential significance. But the Inner House (the appellate chamber of the Scottish Court of Session) judgment in Wightman and others, 21 September 2018, means that there will be a ruling from the CJEU, scheduled for 10 December, on whether the Article 50 notice can be unilaterally revoked by the UK as a matter of EU law. The Advocate General’s Opinion on 4 December 2018 was that unilateral revocation was permissible. The CJEU ruled on 10 December 2018 that that unilateral revocation of Article 50 was a sovereign right for any Member State to pursue without any conditions attached, beyond the decision to revoke notification needing to follow a ‘democratic process’ that satisfied national constitutional requirements and that the revocation would have to be made before a concluded withdrawal agreement had entered into force or (if there was no agreement) before the Article 50 negotiating period had expired (whether extended by unanimous European Council agreement or not).

         Shindler

  • In Shindler the General Court dismissed the action as “inadmissible” but the applicants are likely to appeal.

         European Arrest Warrants

  • The CJEU judgment in RO,18 September 2018, concerns the lawful execution by Member States under EU law of European Arrest Warrants (EAWs) issued by the UK. The CJEU ruled that, all other requirements of the EAW Framework Decision being satisfied, the UK EAWs should continue to be executed in the lead-up to Brexit. The CJEU did not speculate about a transition/implementation period.

         Dispute settlement

  • The CJEU ruling in Achmea (dispute settlement) suggests that after Brexit the UK will not be able to avoid the impact of EU law and the CJEU.

More to come?

CJEU President, Professor Koen Lenaerts, believes that many more Brexit cases will come before the CJEU before and after the UK leaves the EU.

 

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