The Queen makes her speech in the House of Lords

The Queen makes her speech in the House of Lords  © Getty Images

For many the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday was a disappointment. The speech traditionally lists the proposed legislation and other measures for each year-long parliamentary session. It is read out by the Queen from a text provided by the government.

For the government, this speech demonstrated that various major proposals had been dropped. For the opposition, it showed a government unable to address properly various problems. For the media, it gave little for them to write about.

But in one way, the speech was welcome. The relative lack of legislative proposals is, in principle, a good thing. Of course, there were unfortunate omissions — the lack of a much-needed prisons bill, for example. On the whole, however, the less legislation the better. There are too many statutes, with too little proper scrutiny and too often passed for the wrong reasons. Read more


There was one striking omission in Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech. This was not an omission of any of the politically controversial legislative proposals because of the hung parliament. The striking omission was a simple word: ‘great’.

Since Brexit, the government has repeatedly asserted that there would be a “Great Repeal Bill” (as a proper noun, with capitals). This title was not merely a colloquialism or a slogan. The term was repeatedly used in official documents. The January 2017 white paper on Brexit stated: Read more

David David (left) and Michel Barnier

David David (left) and Michel Barnier  © Getty Images

On Monday, in plain sight, there was an important U-turn by the UK on the first formal day of the Brexit negotiations. The UK government will not openly admit this, of course. Ministers and their press officials are pretending “nothing has changed”. But something has changed, and it is significant. The U-turn was fundamental.

The reversal is on the issue of “sequencing” — that is, the order in which things will be discussed between the UK and the EU in the negotiations about Brexit. This is an especially critical issue in that there are two agreements in play. First is the exit agreement, which deals with all outstanding issues caused by the departure so as to ensure that it is an orderly process: in effect, the divorce agreement. Second is an agreement on the future relationship between Britain and the EU, particularly the terms of trade. Read more

David Cameron resigns as prime minister after the referendum result

David Cameron resigns as prime minister after the referendum result  © Getty Images

The sequence of events following the decision of former prime minister David Cameron to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU is so familiar that it is tempting to blame him entirely for Brexit, and to assume implicitly that Brexit could not have happened otherwise.

But what if Remain had won the referendum? What would have been different not in the shorter term (which, of course, would have been different) but in the medium to longer term? Was the great matter of Brexit likely to happen at some point, if not directly triggered by the referendum result of June 2016? Read more

Pro-Brexiters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament

Pro-Brexiters demonstrate outside the Houses of Parliament  © Getty Images

Brexit was never going to be simple. But the problem since last summer’s referendum, if not before, is that it is treated by its supporters as if it were an easy exercise. And this approach is the biggest opponent of a successful Brexit.

Leaving the EU means the rapid dismantling of more than 40 years of law and policy in dozens of areas of national life. None of this was ever expected to be removed. Year by year since 1973, the UK state has fused with the EU in the formulation and administration of policies now ranging from the single market to environment to civil and criminal justice. Read more

European Council president Donald Tusk receives the notification of Article 50

European Council president Donald Tusk receives the notification of Article 50  © Getty Images

Even if Theresa May had won a substantial majority in last week’s general election, she would still not be a good prime minister for Brexit. For the UK to have any chance of a successful Brexit, it is crucial that she is replaced. In this regard, the election result makes no real difference.

Mrs May is not a bad politician but she is only good at certain things. At the home office she survived for six years in a post that has ruined many politicians. She is a rare example of a home secretary whose political career has continued after leaving that department, let alone one who became prime minister. She may not be great at statescraft but in respect of the basic political requirements of obtaining and then keeping power, Mrs May should not ever be underestimated. She climbed to the top of Disraeli’s greasy pole when many flashier and more thoughtful politicians did not. Read more

Waiting for news in Downing Street  © Getty Images

The direct impact of a hung parliament on the two-year Article 50 period can be easily stated: there is no direct impact. Read more

The human rights Act made the second Hillsborough inquest possible   © Getty Images

So, a day or two before the UK general election, the prime minister and Conservative party leader Theresa May proposes to “tear up” human rights law which, she asserts, stops her government dealing effectively with terrorism.

Presumably, this is not the sort of politician’s statement that will influence how anybody reading this blog will vote. Indeed, it is not the sort of statement that is aimed at any sophisticated or thoughtful voter. Our ears are not able to hear the dog whistle: we can only see the curious contortions of the person blowing hard on it. Read more

The UK and EU are opposed to each other on many aspects of the Brexit negotiations. But on at least one, the two sides seem to be at cross-purposes, and that is the issue of the budget.

Article 50 envisages that there is an exit agreement for a member state intending to leave the EU. The key word here is “agreement”. If the liabilities of a departing member were clear then there would be no need for an agreement. The EU (or UK) could just enforce its outstanding debts and recover what is due to it. If the legal liabilities were easy to ascertain then an agreement would be superfluous. There would just be a grand reckoning. Read more

  © Getty Images

The Conservatives have promised an extension of workers’ rights if they win the general election. But what is the purpose of such rights if they cannot be enforced? This is a general point (so this is a general post) but it is a point worth making even in this way. Indeed, it is so bleedingly obvious a point to make, one wonders why the Tories feel they can get away with it.

In 2013, the Tory-led coalition government imposed fees for the employment tribunals where workers can enforce their rights. Would-be claimants have to pay an issue fee and a hearing fee. For a typical unfair dismissal claim these will be more than £1,000. There is no automatic entitlement to recover these fees even if the claimant is successful: the claimant has to ask for the tribunal to exercise a discretion. Read more

Wednesday’s decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute any of the Conservative party politicians and officials in respect of the “Battlebus” allegations is not – or should not be – a surprise.

But when the allegations emerged last year, there was considerable excitement that there could be prosecutions and convictions of dozens of politicians and officials, leading in turn to by-elections. Some even speculated – fantasised – that the government’s majority would be wiped out by this (supposed) “Tory Election Fraud” scandal. Read more

  © Getty Images

Here is a thought experiment: what would it take, in practice, for a UK government to self-sabotage a “successful” Brexit? And how would that differ from current policy?

We all know the government’s position is that “Brexit means Brexit” and that Britain will make “a success of it”. We also know that, now Article 50 has been triggered, the UK will not be a member of the EU in two years’ time (unless something happens which cannot currently be foreseen). Brexit will therefore take place, whether it is to be a success or not. Read more

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker meet in Downing Street

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker meet in Downing Street  © Getty Images

One of the most important yet most difficult aspects of Brexit will be sorting out what happens to EU citizens from other member states in the UK and to UK citizens in other EU states.

The issue was one of those raised at the now-infamous dinner between the UK prime minister Theresa May and the EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. According to one report:

“[the] EU side were astonished at May’s suggestion that EU/UK expats issue could be sorted at EU Council meeting at the end of June. Juncker objected to this timetable as way too optimistic given complexities, eg on rights to health care”. Read more

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker  © Getty Images

Below is a thread of tweets I posted on Monday as a commentary on the reports of the dinner between the UK prime minister Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president. Read more

Michel Barnier

Michel Barnier  © Getty Images

This is the third of three parts of a source-based detailed account of how the EU’s negotiating position on Brexit came about. Part one of this post is here and part two is here.

The story so far. Part one showed that the key principles of the EU’s negotiating position were in place within days of the UK referendum result, even before Theresa May became prime minister and months before her Birmingham speech. Part two set out how Brussels developed that position into almost final form before 2016 ended. Both parts have emphasised how the EU has also mastered the procedural side of Article 50 so that, when notification was finally made, the scope and content of any exit deal were, from the EU’s perspective, already determined.

From Lancaster House to the Article 50 notification

Theresa May made what seemed a significant speech at Lancaster House on 17 January 2017, setting out her government’s negotiating objectives for exiting the EU. At the time, this appeared to many UK commentators to be a major and consequential step. Read more

Donald Tusk (left) and Jean-Claude Juncker

Donald Tusk (left) and Jean-Claude Juncker  © Getty Images

This is the second part of this post. The first part was published here and the third part is now here.

The preparation begins

After the referendum result came in, the EU’s leaders were quick to articulate how they believed Brexit should be dealt with. Announcing principles and objectives are one thing, mastery of process another. But in this respect, the EU also moved swiftly.

While those in the UK obsessed about the first two sentences of Article 50, those on the EU side focused on the following sentences:

“In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.” Read more

The people of Britain speak, and the EU listens

The people of Britain speak, and the EU listens  © Getty Images

This Saturday, the European Council is holding a special meeting to adopt the EU’s formal guidelines for the Brexit negotiations.

This meeting was announced a week before Theresa May sent the Article 50 letter with notification of the intended departure from the Union and it is being held exactly one month afterwards (from 29 March to 29 April). The EU appears to have moved fast.

This is a good moment to look back at the evolution of the EU’s position on Brexit, to trace how its side of the great matter has developed over the last year or so. This post (which is in three parts) sets out in detail how that position has come into place, based primarily on official sources. Read more

Theresa May announces she will seek a mandate with a general election

Theresa May announces she will seek a mandate with a general election  © Getty Images

On Tuesday, the prime minister Theresa May said there will be a UK general election on 8 June 2017. In technical legal terms this should not be for her to decide. It is a decision for parliament. But in reality the decision is that of the prime minister even though the law says otherwise.

Before 2011, the power to dissolve parliament was one of the prerogative powers that the prime minister could exercise on behalf of the crown. It was perhaps the prime minister’s greatest power: it would be used rarely but the possibility of it being exercised was enough.

Then in 2011, as part of the coalition government’s programme, a Fixed-term Parliaments Act was passed. The intention was to take the politics out of the dissolution of parliament. There would no longer be the risk of a snap general election. Read more

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson  © Getty Images

The demand was unexpectedly precise, and as a particular demand it seemed almost to come from nowhere. In her speech to the conservative party conference in October 2016, the newly appointed prime minister, Theresa May, made ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK a firm commitment for Brexit.

Unlike most of the other Brexit promises up to that date, such as “taking back control” of “our” laws, borders or money, this was not vague. The jurisdiction of any court is, and always should be, a binary matter. Either you are subject to the jurisdiction of a court or you are not. This was a “yes/no” issue. Read more

Theresa May's Article 50 notification letter

Theresa May's Article 50 notification letter   © Getty Images

Legal documents should be allowed to just be legal documents. This is not only true of contracts and wills. It is true of statutes, which should not be given daft populist names or have provisions that have no possible legal effect.

It is also true of notices being given under treaty provisions, such as notifications under Article 50(2) of the treaty on European Union.

This week, the UK prime minister Theresa May sent the Article 50 notification for Britain to leave the EU. This was contained in a six-page letter, of about 1,000 words. There were underlined sub-headings, passages in bold and even a sudden (and unexplained) outbreak of numbered paragraphs. In form, if not in substance, the letter was all over the place. Read more