Tuesday

16th Apr 2024

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

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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?

Private fears of fairtrade activist for EU election campaign

I am not sleeping well, tossing and turning at night because I am obsessed about the EU election campaign, worried by geopolitical tensions, a far-right next parliament, and a backlash against the Green Deal, writes Sophie Aujean of Fairtrade International.

Calling time on Amazon's monopolism and exploitation

As Amazon's founder Jeff Bezos just reclaimed the title of the richest person on Earth, its workers cannot even take a bathroom break under the pressure of meeting inhumane performance targets.

The Bolsonaro-Orbán far-right nexus

Defeated far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has given various reasons for sheltering at the Hungarian embassy in Brasilia — none of them make sense.

Latest News

  1. EU puts Sudan war and famine-risk back in spotlight
  2. EU to blacklist Israeli settlers, after new sanctions on Hamas
  3. Private fears of fairtrade activist for EU election campaign
  4. Brussels venue ditches far-right conference after public pressure
  5. How German police pulled the plug on a Gaza conference
  6. EU special summit, MEPs prep work, social agenda This WEEK
  7. EU leaders condemn Iran, urge Israeli restraint
  8. UK-EU deal on Gibraltar only 'weeks away'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us