A plan being pushed in the Brexit sub-committee of Theresa May’s Cabinet would see the UK agree to a system of voluntary referral of cases to the ECJ following Britain’s departure from the EU.
Theresa May has been warned not to retreat from a pledge to take back control of our laws as she faced lobbying from at least one senior minister for a compromise with Brussels over the powers of European judges after Brexit.
Eurosceptic ministers and backbenchers have expressed alarm at a plan being pushed in the Cabinet’s Brexit sub-committee for the UK to agree to a system of “voluntary referral” of cases to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) following Britain’s departure from the EU.
Mrs May has previously made the jurisdiction of the ECJ a red line in Britain’s negotiations, saying that the British Supreme Court would be the ultimate arbiter after Brexit.
On Saturday night it appeared senior figures may be attempting to bounce the Prime Minister into the move, as one Eurosceptic Cabinet minister said they did not recognise claims that the Cabinet would be swayed by the proposal and a senior MP said he understood she was opposed to the move.
The row, which threatens to engulf the Government in the final weeks before crunch talks with European leaders, comes after Brandon Lewis, the immigration minister, said during the week that the question of the ECJ’s jurisdiction was “part of the negotiations and this has not concluded yet”.
This weekend the Prime Minister was separately urged by the Democratic Unionist Party not to give into Ireland’s demands over its border with Northern Ireland, following claims that Ulster could have to remain in the customs union in order to avoid a “hard border”.
Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s leader in Westminster, told The Telegraph: Anything that separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom economically, or politically, is something that we could not and will not bear.
However, in comments that will give succour to Eurosceptics talking up the benefits of a “no deal” scenario, Roberto Azevedo, the director general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) said that trade with the EU would not “stop” in the absence of an agreement.
It’s not the end of the world if the UK trades under WTO rules with the EU, he told The Telegraph.
The dispute over the Irish border had appeared to be the biggest outstanding issue for Mrs May in Britain’s negotiations with the EU ahead of a crunch summit next month at which European leaders will decide whether trade talks can begin.
However, this weekend it emerged that some senior government figures were strongly pushing for a compromise over the issue of citizens’ rights on which officials had last week believed the leaders would conclude that negotiators had made “sufficient progress.
Supporters of the move could attempt to argue that because British judges would be voluntarily referring individual cases to the European court, the UK would not strictly remain subject to its jurisdiction.
The proposal threatens to open a major row between senior Conservatives, with key Eurosceptic figures having campaigned for a Leave vote partly on the basis that Brexit would enable British judges to have the ultimate say on legal disputes.
Under plans pushed by at least one member of the Cabinet’s Brexit committee last Monday, the UK could offer Brussels an arrangement in which UK judges are able to refer specific cases relating to EU citizens to the ECJ for a binding interpretation.
Such cases would centre on points of law on which there had not already been clear rulings from the court.
The result of such a reference would be a binding determination of the meaning of substantive EU law, said a paper drawn up by the Department for Exiting the European Union over the summer.
On Saturday night David Jones, the former Brexit minister, said: It is effectively ceding jurisdiction to a foreign court and the whole point is that when we leave the EU our own Supreme Court should have supreme jurisdiction. My understanding is that the Prime Minister is opposed to that proposal. I can’t conceive that this would be acceptable on any basis.
On Saturday it was reported that the impression left by Monday’s meeting was that the proposals would be “acceptable” to the Cabinet, after a senior government figure told The Sun that it was a good compromise.
However a Eurosceptic Cabinet minister told this newspaper that they did not recognise the claim.
A Government spokesman said: We don’t comment on Cabinet committee meetings.