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28th Jan 2023

UK to recognise rulings by EU states' courts

  • The British high court in London - May promised to restore full sovereignty (Photo: Nick Garrod)

The UK is prepared to recognise some court rulings by judges in EU states after Brexit, but its trade ideas continue to attract ridicule.

The British government will say in a position paper to be published on Tuesday (22 August) that it will recognise the verdicts of judges in EU countries in commercial cases and in family disputes of a cross-border nature.

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  • Varadkar (r) left "confused ... sceptical" (Photo: Consilium)

“Close cooperation in this area isn't just in the interest of the UK citizens living in the EU, it's in the interest of the 3.2 million EU citizens living here in Britain,” it said in a statement on Monday ahead of the publication.

“With more and more families living across borders, we need to make absolutely sure that if and when problems arise, they can be reassured that cross-border laws will apply to them in a fair and sensible way,” it added.

“A judgment obtained in one country can be recognised and enforced in another,” the statement went on.

“These could relate to issues such as a small business that has been left out of pocket by a supplier based in another EU country, a consumer who wants to sue a business in another country for a defective product they have purchased online, or a person who needs to settle divorce child custody or child maintenance issues with a family member who is living in a different EU country,” it said.

Papers proliferate

The British position paper is the latest in a series of publications ahead of the next round of EU exit talks on 28 August.

The UK published two other papers on Monday - one on EU product certification and one on respecting the confidentiality of official documents exchanged with the EU.

It published two previous papers last week - on EU customs arrangements and on its future border with Ireland.

It is also expected to publish a further paper on Wednesday dealing with the future jurisdiction of the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg and another one later this week on data protection.

UK prime minister Theresa May had promised to restore full sovereignty to British courts after Brexit, leaving her open to criticism that Tuesday’s paper on cross-border commercial and family disputes represents a U-turn.

There is speculation that Wednesday’s paper on the ECJ will suggest using the so called EFTA court as a model for resolving future EU-UK disputes on issues such as citizens’ rights.

The EFTA court governs disputes between the EU and the other members of the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) - Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway.

Its rulings are non-binding on EFTA members, meaning that May could claim she had fulfilled her promise on UK sovereignty.

But the EFTA court rulings de facto follow the ECJ’s lead and are almost always implemented by EFTA states.

Trade ridicule

On trade, the UK paper on product certification said British exports such as cars, food, or pharmaceutical goods that already had permits to be sold in the EU prior to Brexit should not require new ones after the UK left in 2019.

“Goods placed on the single market before exit should continue to circulate freely in the UK and the EU, without additional requirements or restrictions”, it said.

The proposal is designed to reduce costs for exporters.

It takes UK firms up to €550,000 to certify each new model of car for sale in the single market, for instance.

The product certification paper is part of a UK bid to have “frictionless” trade with the EU, including on customs tariffs and checks, after it quits the single market.

Irish leader Leo Varadkar added to mounting ridicule of the British trade demands on Monday, however.

He told the Bloomberg news agency that the UK position papers had left him “confused and puzzled … sceptical”.

“That’s not a realistic position. What trade agreement does the UK want with the EU? At the moment, they have the best trade deal imaginable. What are these better deals the UK really wants from Europe and other countries? Some more clarity would be helpful,” he said.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit spokesman said last week that the British ideas were “fantasy”.

UK gambit

The British publications on trade also go against EU demands to agree on the UK’s exit terms prior to negotiating future relations.

The EU has said it must make “sufficient progress” on EU citizens’ rights, the Irish border, and on the financial cost of the UK’s divorce prior to discussing trade.

European Commission negotiator Michel Barnier said on Monday he had been “clear … since day one” on the sequence of the talks.

Varadkar also said that “progress has not been sufficient” to move to trade.

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