By Rebecca Zahn
The British referendum on the country’s continued membership of the EU has dominated the political and media landscape both in the UK and abroad for the last few months. There has been a plethora of academic commentary on the possible consequences of a British exit (‘Brexit’). On 23 June, based on a turnout of 72%, 52% of the electorate voted for Leave, while 48% supported Remain. This narrow majority disguises dramatic differences between different regions: Scotland, Northern Ireland and large parts of London voted to Remain whereas substantial sections of Wales and most of England voted to Leave.
In the run-up to referendum day, workers’ rights were invoked repeatedly by both sides of the campaign as either a reason to back or oppose Brexit. Leave campaigners, such as Patrick Minford, Professor of Economics at Cardiff Business School, argued that the UK needed to reset its relationship with the EU to ‘jettison excessive protection and over-regulation, notably in the labour market’. Domestic employment laws originating from the EU legislature, such as the much vilified Working Time Directive, have often been described as a burden on business, inflexible, uncompetitive and inefficient. On the other hand, Remain campaigners such as Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the British Trades Union Congress (TUC), warned repeatedly that ‘working people have a huge stake in the referendum because workers’ rights are on the line’ and the link between the UK’s membership of the EU and better protection of workers’ rights featured heavily in campaign material opposing Brexit. Continue reading
By the editors
The British people voted by a majority of just over million people to leave the EU. Some have hailed this unprecedented decision as a return to sovereignty and a reassertion of British prominence on the global stage. Others mourn the outcome, believing it to represent a lurch towards splendid isolation and irrelevance. The vote laid bare a number of hard truths for both sides. While the close margin was largely anticipated, a negative and divisive campaign has meant that there is little common ground on which both the Remain and Leave camps can build. The results also exposed the extent of the inter-generational divide within the UK. Young voters chose by a large majority to remain while older voters chose to leave. This has led to the obvious recrimination that having reaped the benefits of EU membership for decades, older voters are depriving younger generations of these opportunities and deepening existing inequalities. The EU may, however, take some hope from this vote of confidence from the British youth.
Beyond the political, economic and social implications of the result within the UK and for the EU, the vote will have significant legal consequences. In the coming months, we will attempt to identify the legal questions that Brexit will entail. A few spring to mind: Is the UK bound to invoke the Article 50 procedure? (The political establishment in the UK appear to think not.) What happens to the international (trade) agreements concluded jointly by the EU and the UK? How will the border between Northern Ireland – which voted to Remain but will become an external border of the EU – and the Republic of Ireland be policed and what impact will this have on the Good Friday Peace Agreement? What – if any – immediate implications will this have for British MEPs, the CJEU, Commission officials, for the Council and – of course – for the British Presidency of the Council in 2017? Will Assange no longer have to fear for extradition to Sweden? What will happen to the more than one million UK citizens living and working in Europe? And what will happen to EU citizens living and working in the UK (including, for instance, professional football players)? How will the UK’s environmental law and policy be affected, as, for instance, REACH will no longer be applicable in the UK? How will the Brexit vote affect the development of the digital single market or the future funding of scientific research?
A particularly worrying feature of the UK referendum campaign, visible in the US Presidential Elections and elsewhere – is the vilification of ‘experts’ and the willing disregard of evidence. Nevertheless, as lawyers we must continue to rely on such evidence and expertise to negotiate the legal issues this vote will raise. All contributions to this blog on these legal implications are very welcome – informed expert opinion matters.