“UK offers climbdown on European courts deciding cross-border cases” reads a Guardian headline this morning. This is in response to a government paper released today that sets out the need for a smooth transition from what we have now as a member of the EU and what a post-Brexit judicial world will look like. This follows a trend: everything the government is putting forth this summer on Brexit is about “transition” and the need for it.
“A judgment obtained in one country can be recognised and enforced in another. For example, 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.”
What is happening now, it seems to me, is a slow movement towards where the government seems inevitably headed: a transitional period of indeterminate length in which Britain will be in the customs union and very likely the single market, and probably paying a high monetary price to do so. The idea seems to be have a measured climbdown on the Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech (hard to believe that was less than a year ago now), spread over as much time as possible, as opposed to having to admit in one go that hard Brexit is not going ahead as announced.
The promise to be removed from the aegis of the ECJ completely was always a foolish one. It is very difficult to see any scenario, even ones that would unfold under the most ultra forms of Brexit, in which this would strictly speaking be the case. If you want to trade within the European Union, you will encounter the ECJ somewhere along the way – stating that British businesses looking to trade on the continent wouldn’t have to do this was just false. So now, it is let it slip that, yes, judgements obtained elsewhere may just have to apply in the UK. Put it out in silly season. And hope no one gets too upset about it all.
The interesting question, of course, is will it work? What I mean by that is will the Conservative Party be able to weather the fact that they have promised so much in terms of Brexit and what it will bring, most of which is undeliverable? I don’t know, but the answer is: probably, yes. Because, let us not forget, Corbyn is a terrible leader of the opposition, and has blown it on Brexit for the sake of doing better in the 2017 general election than expected. He isn’t trying now to flag up the Tory climbdown on things like the ECJ, or pointed out the problems inherent in their customs union proposals for two reasons: one, to do so would expose his own nonsensical position on Brexit and two, he just really doesn’t care very much about opposing the Tories on anything Brexit related anyway and never has. And given Brexit is pretty much all the government is going to be doing for the next two years at least, that means the Tories essentially have no sizable parliamentary opposition on any of this awaiting them. The public might notice what’s going on – then again, they very well might not.