For future students of modern British politics, Britain’s journey out of the European Union will no doubt be a fascinating field of study with the luxury of historical analysis and the benefit of hindsight, but in the here and now and on the day that the British Government triggers Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, we have no real idea what the economic, social or even geographical outcomes will be.
The actual act of triggering Article 50 will take the form of the Prime Minister, Theresa May, sending a letter to the EU and Donald Tusk, the current President of the European Council, setting out Britain’s intention to withdraw. As no country has ever left the EU before, there is no precedent to follow, but it is likely to state Britain’s wish to conclude an early and comprehensive agreement, within the two year time period which begins to run once Article 50 is triggered.
We have already turned our attention to how our laws can be readied for March 2019. Quite a task given that the legal system in England and Wales differs markedly from that in Scotland and again to that in Northern Ireland, but all three systems take much from European law which has become part of our legal fabric over the last 43 years, since we joined the EU in 1973.
There has been some talk about the Great Repeal Bill suggesting that it will annul instantly the 1972 European Communities Act which gave EU law instant effect in the UK, whilst giving Parliament the power to absorb parts of EU legislation within UK law. News reports also suggest there will be additional bills covering for example immigration, tax, agriculture, data protection and others areas to set out Britain’s post-Brexit future.
Whatever form the legislative agenda will take, it is safe to say that time is now tight in terms of shaping the legal landscape, post March 2019.
We will be providing advice and assistance to those who are already, and who are likely to be, caught up in the momentum of our exit. We have, at the very least, the opportunity to advise, influence, lobby and campaign in all areas to keep laws that are both themselves an important part of our domestic process, but which also give structure to our relations with our fellow Europeans on matters as diverse as European Arrest Warrants, the Brussels II Regulation (determining the priority on divorce) and the Working Time Directive.