Sunday

19th Jan 2020

Opinion

Wonky bananas and legal delusions in the Brexit camp

  • Rules on banana trade became a symbol of EU meddling (Photo: Mike Mozart)

Taking back control over laws, financial, and immigration policies: what does it mean for the future external relations of the UK?

What are the possible legal relationships between the UK and the EU?

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

The prospect of a no-deal Brexit pushed by British prime minister Boris Johnson is closely related to the ability of the UK to decide unilaterally all laws, without any outside interference.

Johnson's infamous remarks on the EU's rules on the shape of the bananas or the power of the vacuum cleaners, calling them "crazy" epitomise, what some hard Brexiteers want out of leaving the EU: the ability to choose their own rules, at all levels.

However, how can that be realised concretely?

What are the models and scenarios in which that can be totally achieved?

When looking at the rhetoric that all laws have to be decided unilaterally by the UK in order to be acceptable, one wonders how such view can be concretely upheld.

Legal isolationism is a prominent trait of hard Brexiteers, however the only way to achieve complete control over all laws is necessarily connected with broader economic isolationism, which most hard Brexiteers are against.

As the economy is central to the debate in Brexit, the relationship between legal isolationism and the economy should be emphasised further.

At the core of the discourse of hard Brexiteers lies the total control and therefore inflexibility in the design of all rules, despite the potential interrelations they create with the outside world.

The idea that rules designed in the UK exist in a vacuum, closed from the outside, has consequences on the conduct of the UK towards the world.

Indeed, it assumes that all partners must accept the rules the UK designs, without possible interventions, in cases where normally negotiations take place.

Bananas and vacuum cleaners

For example, the sizes or shapes of the bananas have been regulated in the spirit of rendering the trade of bananas smoother, between countries.

The same applies to the power of vacuum cleaners (together with environmental concerns on energy consumption). The aim of these regulations is to achieve a common goal, together.

However, the moment the UK decides to create separate rules and supposedly different from the other nations (it is the whole point of having control of them, so that they can be different), it sends a different message to the outside world, one where negotiations are not welcome.

What bothers some hard Brexiteers is that they do not retain all the power over the rules and have to concede certain points to others.

This misunderstands what cooperation means.

When former British prime minister David Cameron came back from the EU without all his demands having been met, that meant that the UK had to leave the EU.

But that implies the view that the UK should be able to decide unilaterally all the rules over other nations.

The basic idea of finding mutual grounds is stripped of its meaning.

That leaves two options for the UK: either isolation or relations of subordination.

This is because no other nation will want to accept rules not negotiated, especially when those rules are to regulate goods or services that have a transnational element.

Therefore, either the UK decides rules unilaterally that no other national will apply, or it seeks to impose unilaterally those rules.

The UK wants to make transnational rules national.

This is an oxymoron.

There is an inherent contradiction between the "taking back control of our laws" and rules of commerce and trade.

For trade relations, even in the case where the UK only uses World Trade Organisation rules, those rules are made by negotiation and will not be amended whenever and however the UK wants.

And the reason for it is that nations cooperate in order to find agreement.

Of course, countries with more power can impose certain rules on other countries with less power, but it does not take away the fact that one nation cannot design the system on its own.

The only way that unilateral decisions can be imposed in a transnational context is through subordination of other nations.

Is this the way hard Brexiteers want to reconcile legal isolationism with economic openness?

Author bio

Justine Bendel teaches law at the University of Sheffield in the UK.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Brexit snap election might plumb further chaos

Tuesday will go down as one of the most dramatic days in British parliamentary history. After just weeks in power, Boris Johnson now wants a snap Brexit election - but will the Labour opposition let him?

Why EU subsidy schemes don't work - the evidence

Counter to popular beliefs among policymakers, the positive effects of support schemes are found to be very limited. In order to revitalise Europe, the newly appointed EU Commission needs to reconsider government's role in innovation and entrepreneurship.

News in Brief

  1. 'No objection in principle' on Huawei cooperation, EU says
  2. French aircraft carrier goes to Middle East amid tensions
  3. EU suggests temporary ban on facial recognition
  4. EU industry cries foul on Chinese restrictions
  5. 'Devil in detail', EU warns on US-China trade deal
  6. Trump threatened EU-tariffs over Iran, Germany confirms
  7. EU trade commissioner warns UK of 'brinkmanship'
  8. Germany strikes coal phase-out deal

Column

Why nations are egomaniacs

A nation, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, is not capable of altruism. Even less so, if such a group has formed on the basis of strong emotions and casts itself as the "saviour of the nation".

Maltese murder - the next rule-of-law crisis in EU?

While Poland's government is escalating its rule of law crisis by introducing even more drastic measures against the country's judges, another problem is looming over the EU's commitment to upholding the rule of law: Malta.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us