Britain could still be subject to some rulings by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) after Brexit, in what some have described as a climbdown by Prime Minister Theresa May.
A government blueprint on how the UK will treat rulings of the court will say its “direct jurisdiction” will end when Britain leaves the EU.
The government paper will also argue it is not “necessary or appropriate” for the ECJ to have direct jurisdiction over Britain once it becomes a non-member state. It is also expected to state that Britain is in a “position of strength” to forge new judicial arrangements for dealing with disputes with the remaining 27-nation bloc after leaving the EU.
The position that ECJ’s “direct jurisdiction” will end appears to fall short of May’s previous pledges and may anger hardline Tory Brexiteers. In January, the PM promised “we are not leaving (the EU) only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable told ITV it was a “sensible and long overdue climbdown,” adding that “the government seems to have belatedly accepted it won’t be possible to end the EU’s court of influence in the UK without damaging our free trade and security cooperation with Europe.”
Labour MP Chuka Umunna, a leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign against a hard Brexit, told the news outlet:“Despite what Leave campaigners claimed, ministers seem to be hinting that total sovereignty is impossible.
“It appears that the government realizes that European judges will have some say over what happens in Britain, whether we are in the single market or not.”
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer added that 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.”
Justice minister Dominic Raab told Sky News there is “no climbdown, no confusion.”
“We’re leaving the EU, which means we’ll take back control over our laws and end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. It will not decide any disputes between the EU and the UK.”
He said the UK was proposing an arbitration process that would guarantee that “both sides have confidence in that process.”
The ECJ is disliked by many pro-Brexit MPs who say it has sucked power from British courts and Parliament. But for the EU, the Luxembourg-based court is the ultimate arbiter of EU law and must protect its citizens, even those living in Britain.
Legal experts have warned Britain could end up in a position where it has to follow ECJ rulings if it wants to remain closely linked to the single market and customs union.