Brexit latest: Brussels ‘rejects’ Theresa May’s red line on EU judges


Theresa May was pitched into a new clash with Brussels today about handing European judges a permanent say over UK laws after Brexit.

A draft withdrawal agreement due from the 27 other EU states tomorrow will name the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as the ultimate arbiter of treaty disputes after Britain leaves the bloc, according to reports from Brussels.

Boris Johnson, however, said it would be incompatible with the result of the 2016 referendum for the court to have any long-term sway over domestic affairs.

“That won’t happen, because that has been expressly ruled out by the British people,” the Foreign Secretary said today. “We can’t remain subject to the European Court of Justice and that is part of taking back control of our laws.” 

The reported legal text would make European judges, who sit in Luxembourg and are appointed by EU states, the referees whenever Britain or the EU is accused of breaking a treaty commitment. According to the Financial Times, the text will say the UK should be subject to the court’s rulings indefinitely. 

Boris Johnson compares London borough boundaries to Irish border

Such a plan would collide with Mrs May’s red line that Britain must break free from the ECJ altogether once the implementation period after Brexit expires in around December 2020.

Her spokesman said her position was “clear” on the ECJ and that No 10 would await the EU paper tomorrow before responding. The dispute came as:

Britain’s former top trade official today launched a riposte to Brexiteers campaigning to quit Europe’s trade bloc, saying they were swapping a three-course feast for “a packet of crisps”.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, said the UK’s plan for “ambitious managed divergence” agreed by ministers at Chequers last week was “unacceptable”.

Guy Verhofstadt,  the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator (AFP/Getty Images)

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said leaving the customs union would create “a global Britain with ambitions to maximise our trade opportunities both in and outside the EU”.

Sir Martin Donnelly, the former permanent secretary to Mr Fox’s department, joined the growing row over Mrs May’s decision to leave the customs union. He echoed forecasts backed by the Treasury that economic growth will slow to a crawl if the UK leaves the customs union and the single market.

In a speech tonight he will say: “For the UK to give up existing access … is rather like rejecting a three-course meal now in favour of the promise of a packet of crisps later.”

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today show earlier, Sir Martin said 60 per cent of UK trade was with Europe and any divergence would harm exports, especially in the services sector. Global deals would not compensate for the losses, he added. “You just have to look at the arithmetic. It doesn’t add up,” he said.

Europe, Sir Martin said, would never allow the same trade access unless the UK obeyed the same rules. Mocking Mrs May’s claims that she could secure frictionless trade anyway, he said: “That’s something for a fairy godmother.” 

Mr Johnson, however, told Today there was an “insatiable” market for UK services outside the EU. He said: “You can’t suck and blow at once… we’re going to have to come out of the customs union to be able to do free trade deals.”

In his speech at Bloomberg in London, Mr Fox said staying in the customs union after Brexit would be “a complete sell-out of Britain’s national interests”. He said: “We have been given a historic opportunity to re-orientate our economy. We have a duty to grasp it.”

Mr Verhofstadt sniped: “The best way to be independent and not a colony is to be in the European Union.” 

Tory supporters of the customs union were buoyed by Jeremy Corbyn’s speech backing it yesterday, which opens the way for Brexiteers to be outvoted in the Commons. Mrs May is expected to set out the plan for “ambitious managed divergence” agreed by her inner Brexit war cabinet at Chequers last week, and set to be approved by the full Cabinet at a special meeting on Thursday. It has been branded “pure illusion” by European Council president Donald Tusk.

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