UK prime minister Theresa May

Theresa May, UK prime minister   © Getty Images

Theresa May is expected to announce this week that the UK may leave the EU single market.

This is not much of a surprise. As this blog (and other commentators) has pointed out, the necessary implication of the Brexit objectives to which the prime minister has admitted is that Britain will have to leave the single market. Any formal announcement of this is just confirmation.

But the announcement raises a significant constitutional issue. At the 2015 general election, the Conservatives obtained an overall majority with an explicit manifesto commitment to “safeguard” the UK’s position in the European single market. That was the express promise on which Mrs May and her Tory colleagues were elected. Read more

Theresa May

Theresa May   © Getty Images

On Monday, Theresa May complained about being misrepresented by the media about Brexit. The prime minister is reported as saying:

“I am tempted to say that the people who are getting it wrong are those who print things saying I’m talking about a hard Brexit, [and that] it’s absolutely inevitable there’s a hard Brexit. I don’t accept the terms soft and hard Brexit.

“What we are doing is going to get an ambitious, good and best possible deal for the United Kingdom, in terms of trading with and operating within the European single market.”

Are the media misrepresenting the prime minister? Read more

Theresa May

Theresa May  © Getty Images

The Sky interview by Sophy Ridge of Theresa May on Sunday is worth close attention. The headlines were about the prime minister’s answers to the questions about Donald Trump. But it was her responses to the probing at the start of the interview about the single market that were perhaps more interesting. Read more

Arthur Cockfield: He made a plan and made it work

Arthur Cockfield: He made a plan and made it work  © Getty Images

Once upon a time there was a Conservative politician from the UK with an ambitious but realistic plan for what is now the European Union.

The politician was Lord (Arthur) Cockfield, in my view the second most significant Tory politician of the 1980s. His proposal was for providing a framework for a single European market by 1992, and it was pretty much achieved within the target period of eight years.

As a member of the European Commission, Cockfield — who died a decade ago this month — produced a white paper in 1985 that put forward a practical and sensible way of achieving a complex task within a set period. That was the sort of thing Tory politicians could once do. Read more

Cases of files arrive at the Supreme Court in London for the appeal hearing in December

Cases of files arrive at the Supreme Court in London for the appeal hearing in December  © Getty Images

In the event that the Article 50 notification is sent in March 2017, just weeks away, many commentators — including me — will get a deserved kicking. From the referendum result onward I have been doubtful that the notification would indeed be sent. On a couple of unguarded moments I even said it would never be sent. I shifted my view in October to saying the notification was possible but was less likely than likely.

As it is now over six months since the referendum result, the time has perhaps come to revisit this prediction. Looking at it from now and with currently available information, how likely is an Article 50 notification by the end March 2017? Read more

One crucial question about Brexit is about whether the Article 50 process, once invoked, can then be revoked. Article 50 is silent. The one court which can answer the question, the European Court of Justice, has so far not had any reason to decide. Many people have confident opinions but nobody knows for certain.

There is no real doubt that the process can be revoked if all the EU member states agree, though this is more a statement of political reality than strictly one of law. The issue is more about whether the process can be revoked unilaterally, or with anything less than unanimity. Most pundits seem to say that it can be revoked, and there is support for this in public international law (the law which governs treaty-making) and from Lord Kerr, who wrote the provision. On the other hand, an easily revoked Article 50 process would undermine the hard two-year limit: there is little point in such a deadline if the clock can constantly be re-set. Read more

The Supreme Court appeal heard this week what may turn out to be the UK constitutional law case of a generation. Read more

On Monday, the UK Supreme Court will begin hearing a significant constitutional case relating to Brexit and Article 50, known as “Miller” after one of the claimants. Below is a guide to what the case is (and is not) about and why it is so important.

The issues Read more

Prime Minister Theresa May is being careful about what information is available to her opponents in the Brexit negotiations. There will be “no running commentary” or any substantial disclosure from Downing Street. Her opponents, however, are not the various EU institutions. Brussels probably knows the strengths and weaknesses of the UK negotiating position better than the UK itself.

No, her true Brexit opponents are the UK’s media and politicians and, by extension, the public. Mrs May and her government are in an intense negotiation to obtain approval from those to whom they are, in theory, accountable. This is the settlement which matters most. The actual exit terms with the EU are of secondary importance. Read more

What should we make of the Article 127 challenge to Brexit which has been discussed over the last couple of days? Is this a serious way by which the UK can remain part of the single market? Is Article 127 as important as Article 50, if not more so?

The Article 127 in question is not a provision in the EU treaties. The provision is from the agreement for the European Economic Area (EEA). The EEA is a combination of the EU member states, as separate signatories, and three of the four members of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA). In essence, membership of the EEA means membership of the single market. Read more

The rights of citizens can only be extinguished by legislature Read more

Pro-EU supporters outside the High Court in London, which has been hearing the Article 50 case

Pro-EU supporters outside the High Court in London, which has been hearing the Article 50 case  © Getty Images

When the UK makes a notification under Article 50 that it intends to withdraw from the EU there is the legal question of whether that notification can be revoked unilaterally.

Nobody knows the answer.

If it is revocable then the UK and EU will not be bound to go through with the exercise if conditions or preferences change: the UK can put the revolver down.

But if it is irrevocable then the UK will be out in two years or so, even if no exit deal has been agreed: once the revolver is fired the bullet cannot be stopped. Read more

David Davis, Brexit minister

David Davis, Brexit minister  © Getty Images

On Monday, Prime Minister Theresa May gave a speech in Copenhagen. She mentioned “free trade” three times but the single market not at all. In Westminster, the Brexit minister David Davis gave a statement and answered questions in the House of Commons, where he was at ease with the UK not being a member of the single market. In one answer he said:

“we will seek to get the most open, barrier-free market that we can. That will be as good as a single market.”

Mr Davis deftly dealt with the distinction between a “hard” and a “soft” Brexit by saying the distinction did not exist:

“the words hard and soft Brexit are designed to deceive. They are not meaningful in any way. We are talking about the best possible trade access.”

Mr Davis also set out his utopian vision of Brexit, where there is no downside and only upsides:

I highlighted three of the four main aims that we are after. One is to regain control of our borders. Another is to get back control of our laws. The one I did not list was our aim to keep our justice and security arrangements at least as strong as they are. Finally, and most importantly in this context, the United Kingdom must aim to maintain the best possible open access to European markets and vice versa. If we can achieve all that, there will be no downside to Brexit at all, and considerable upsides.

 Read more

Theresa May, UK prime minister

Theresa May, UK prime minister  © Getty Images

The UK government is seeking to do as much of Brexit as possible without involving parliament. It does not want parliament to make the formal decision to leave the EU or even decide what type of Brexit the country should seek, and it does not want to keep parliament informed about the negotiations. The government is getting away with this because of the summer referendum, which, in fact, had no binding effect in law.

The Brexit referendum was a plebiscite, and plebiscites are paradoxical things. On the surface they are exercises in direct democracy, allowing the people to determine political questions for themselves. But in substance, they provide the executive with the means to circumvent and frustrate those other organs of the state that would otherwise provide checks and balances. Plebiscites seem liberal but they can be used for illiberal ends. Read more

Theresa May addresses the Conservative party conference

Theresa May addresses the Conservative party conference  © Getty Images

Sunday was a good day for Leave campaigners, perhaps the best day they have had since the referendum result.

The announcement of two things by the UK prime minister Theresa May at the Conservative party conference brought good cheer to the Brexiters. On social media and elsewhere there was triumphalism — even gloating — as it seemed more real than before that Brexit is going to happen. Read more

  © Getty Images

Imagine a British politician in a friendly restaurant somewhere on the continent. He or she decides what they want from a menu that is conveniently also in English. They summon the attentive waiter or waitress, who in an obliging and smiley manner takes the British politician’s order. That is, of course, given in English. Everybody nods happily.

This is how many UK politicians and pundits seem to believe the post-Brexit international trade deals are going to work, both with the EU and with the rest of the world. All it needs is for the British to turn up and choose what they want, click their fingers and the transaction can be quickly made with the grateful locals. Read more

The British prime minister Theresa May greets Donald Tusk, European Council president, in Downing Street

The British prime minister Theresa May greets Donald Tusk, European Council president, in Downing Street  © Getty Images

I went for a few days to Brussels to research for a book on Brexit. I met and listened (on a “background basis”) to politicians and officials, journalists and pundits, Brits and non-Brits. It seemed a good moment to gain a snapshot of what was being said and thought a few weeks after the referendum result but before views and attitudes settled and hardened. Read more

Britain's justice secretary Liz Truss

When Elizabeth Truss was appointed Lord Chancellor and justice secretary there was considerable disquiet. The first holder of the combined roles Lord Falconer went so far to call the appointment “unlawful” and inappropriate. Others like Joshua Rozenberg (and myself) reserved judgment. After all, natural justice requires everyone to be assessed on their merits. Read more

What has to be in the exit agreement between the UK and the EU? What is the narrowest legal basis on which Brexit can be done? The process under Article 50 (of the EU treaty) envisages that there would be such an agreement for a departing member state. Article 50(2) provides:

From the wording of this provision, the exit agreement should include “arrangements for [the member state's] withdrawal” and should “take account” of the “framework for [the member state's] future relationship” with the EU. These statements, however, are not that informative So, let us start with a basic question: is an exit agreement even needed? Or could the UK just walk away? Read more

Theresa May, UK prime minister

Theresa May, UK prime minister  © Getty Images

Wanting something to happen is never enough. More than mere desire is needed. This simple truth is obvious in the current state of Brexit policy in the UK.

The discrepancy between will and capability is not new. In the days following the Brexit referendum vote, the Conservative minister Rory Stewart made the distinction: there would be no shortage of political will, he averred, but the important question was whether there would be the political capability. That is still the key question. Read more