The Repeal Bill Cometh.

The ‘Great Repeal Bill’ promised by the Prime Minister in October 2016 will be published today, Thursday 13th July.

It will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, and repatriate EU law into British law, thereby ending the general supremacy of EU law.

The Bill, described by the Prime Minister as an “essential step” to EU withdrawal, was the centrepiece of the Queen’s Speech.

When published, its short title will be different as value-laden terms such as ‘great’ are not permitted in legislative titles. It is expected to be titled the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

Once it is introduced to the UK Parliament, it will be scrutinised through debates in the Houses of Commons and Lords, and more detailed line-by-line scrutiny in select committees. Amendments can be made to the bill. Both the Commons and the Lords will need to approve the bill, with any amendments, before it can be passed.

Even if the Bill is relatively short, the scrutiny process may take some time if previous examples of EU bills are any guide – remember the legislation to ratify the Maastricht Treaty?
This follows on from the white paper published by the Department for Exiting the European Union on 30 March 2017 which set out the objectives for the proposed Great Repeal Bill:

  • Repeal the European Communities Act (1972) on the day the UK leaves the EU,
  • Replicate some 20,000 pieces of EU law onto the UK statute book,
  • Convert directly-applicable EU law (EU regulations) into UK law,
  • Preserve all the laws that have been made in the UK to implement EU obligations,
  • Ensure the rights in EU treaties that are relied on directly in court by an individual will continue to be available in UK law,
  • Historic European Court of Justice case law will be given the same binding, or precedent, status in UK courts as Supreme Court decisions, and
  • Create powers to make secondary legislation under statutory instrument procedures.

The White Paper commits to ending the supremacy of EU law in UK law. It will no longer be the case that every law passed in Westminster has to be compatible with those passed in Brussels.

It also says that past judgements of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will be downgraded in status after Brexit. ECJ judgements will have no role in the interpretation of laws passed by Parliament after the UK has left the EU. Pre-Brexit ECJ judgements will continue to have some role in interpreting pre-Brexit EU law, but the UK Supreme Court will be able to overrule these decisions in some cases.

The role of post-Brexit ECJ judgements on pre-Brexit laws is still unclear.

Issues might arise with the two ‘D’s: delegated powers and devolution (remember the devolved states in all of this Brexit mess?)

Regarding delegated powers, the White Paper submitted that a “prohibitively large amount of primary legislation” would be required to make all the necessary changes to the body of EU law. Therefore, it will “provide a power to correct the statute book, where necessary, to rectify problems occurring as a consequence of leaving the EU”.

The UK Government has acknowledged there will need to be some constraints on how ministers can use secondary legislation to change the law. The problem is that the White Paper is vague about what these constraints will be. For instance, the White Paper acknowledges that ministers’ new powers will have to be time limited, but does not actually discuss what these time limits will be.

The UK Government therefore is seeking a “discussion between Government and Parliament as to the most pragmatic and effective approach to take” on powers.

The issue of devolution poses another headache. The White Paper committed to “intensive discussions with the devolved administrations” about how policy powers repatriated to the UK from the EU will be distributed between the various states which comprise the UK.

Per the Queen’s Speech, the Bill committed to “maintaining the scope of devolved decision making powers immediately after EU-exit” and “having intensive discussion and consultation with devolved administrations on where lasting common frameworks are needed”.

Following the Speech, Prime Minister Theresa May appeared to admit that the consent via Sewel motions of the devolved parliaments may need to be sought before the passage of the Bill. Indeed, the Scottish Secretary David Mundell has recently echoed his previous assurances that a Legislative Consent Motion would be required for some parts of the Bill which are relevant to devolved competences. Other Brexit may also require Legislative Consent Motions.

Confused? You are in good company. For all this has raised the prospect that one or more of the devolved administrations could block the Bill if it does not propose that repatriated powers do not flow directly to them. And even better, there is uncertainty over the extent to which this vote could derail the Bill.

Why bother with such a Bill, it might be asked. Well, EU law covers areas such as environmental regulation, workers’ rights, and the regulation of financial services. Without the Repeal Bill, when the UK withdrawals from the EU, all these rules and regulations would no longer have legal standing in the UK, creating a ‘black hole’ in the UK statute book and leading to uncertainty and confusion. By carrying EU laws over into UK law, the UK Government plans to provide for what David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, calls ‘a calm and orderly exit’ from the EU, while giving the UK Government and UK Parliament time to review, amend or scrap these laws in future.

Essentially, The purpose of the Bill is to provide certainty and continuity, ensuring the same rules and laws apply immediately after Brexit wherever possible, and supporting a smooth transition.

MPs will not have an opportunity to vote on the Bill until the autumn. This is perhaps good news for the Conservative government, which knows it will face stiff opposition to the bill. Indeed, it feels as though all parties in the Commons (sans the DUP, who have pledged to support the UK Government in all matters Brexit as part of their confidence and supply agreement) will unite in some form to make the Bill’s progress through Parliament hell for the Prime Minister.

The Labour Party, for example, has vowed to try to wreck the Brexit process by voting against the flagship “Repeal Bill”, unless Theresa May makes dramatic changes.

The Opposition usually gives the Government opportunity to change a Bill between its second and third reading, which would have postponed a Commons flashpoint until next year.

Yet Labour is arguing that government ministers have plenty of time to make those changes before second reading in October.

Keir Starmer, the party’s Brexit spokesman, said recently Labour would attempt to defeat the legislation in just three months’ time. Labour disagrees with most of the Bill’s contents, and is demanding the Bill includes full protection of rights for British workers and consumers, of environmental standards and the devolution of powers across the country. It is also determined to prevent a Government power grab through the use of delegated ‘Henry VIII powers’, allowing future changes without proper Parliamentary scrutiny.

Labour does accept it will not be able to defeat the Bill at its second reading, anticipated to be in October, without a revolt by some Conservative MPs, given Ms May’s working Commons majority of 12. However, it is hoping to play a game of ‘divide and conquer’ – the party believes it will be very difficult for the ten Scottish Conservative MPs to support the Repeal Bill without strong guarantees on devolution.

And it is not just Labour who is promising a difficult path for the UK Government. The Liberal Democrats, who after all fought the general election on a pledge to stage a second referendum on Brexit, also said they would make the passage of the Bill “hell”.

The publication of the Bill today is merely the first step in a long and complex journey for the Conservative Government. The real Parliamentary showdown will not be today. It will be come the autumn.

Bill of Rights for NI: why have one?

I have previously written about the student working group on human rights I am a part of. Our main area of focus is on the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement 1998.

Our work to date has involved examining the historical context to the proposal of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, and considering the provision for a Bill of Rights within the Good Friday Agreement. I personally have examined and summarised the 2008 submission of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and the Joint Committee’s 2011 advice on a Charter of Rights for the island of Ireland. Another participate has summarised the response of the Northern Ireland Office to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission 2008 submission. We are currently working on incorporating our research into a report, and we will conclude by submitting our argument that a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland is necessary, and now is the time to see it realised.

Northern Ireland faces great uncertainty in the wake of Brexit. We are currently experiencing a political vacuum – no agreement was after weeks of talks to form a new Executive after the snap March election, meaning we have no devolved government, and now talks are paused for the snap General Election – with the threat of direct rule looming on the horizon. Given political uncertainty and lack of government, the need to recognise and protect human rights in Northern Ireland is vital.

Many countries have a bill of rights in some form. It has been found that 82% of constitutions drafted between 1788 and 1948 contained some form of human rights protection. This figure increased to 93% between 1949 and 1975. This trend continued throughout the 1980s, and by 1990 onwards, as many countries underwent peace processes and transition towards new constitutional settlements, human rights frameworks became routine. This ‘routine’ was applied to Northern Ireland as it underwent a peace process and constitutional transition in 1998.

A bill of rights is a constitutional document, essentially a list, of the most important rights and freedoms belonging to the citizens of a state. The primary purpose of this document is the provision of rights, and the protection of those rights against infringement, with the bill of rights acting as a type of contract between citizens and the state.

States may opt to enshrine a bill of rights as they recognise there are certain values and principles which are so basic, and so fundamental, they wish to put them beyond the reach of government. Rights such as the right to fair trial are arguably matters to be protected against state interference, irrespective of shifts in the political landscape. Bills of rights therefore aim to separate these fundamental values from politics, and subjective political interpretation.

Adopting a bill of rights also provides for a clearer understanding of the democratic structure of the state, especially with regards to restrictions on political decision-making, and the state’s responsibilities for its citizens. This model emphasises participation, but also ensures a balance between necessary limitation of majority rule – thus preventing any abuses of power – and the encouragement of equal participation of all.

States therefore tend to adopt bills of rights when agreeing upon a new or revised constitution, as part of a peace settlement after a period of internal conflict, and/or as a solution to political, legal or moral pressure to address failures to protect rights.

Bills of rights provide legal recognition and protection of rights to all citizens, but it applies particularly to those within marginalised and vulnerable groups. This is of relevance to Northern Ireland, where human rights issues have been raised in relation to children and women in detention, women accessing reproductive healthcare, equality for the LGBT* community, and the Irish-speaking community. Adopting a Bill of rights would ensure a defense for these communities, and provide legal protection of their rights and redress for violations of same.

A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland is not a new proposition. Since the 1960s, there have been calls from across the political divide for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. The common argument is a Bill of Rights would provide for a stable, shared society built on equality and non-discrimination. As part of a constitutional foundation, it would ensure no matter who was in power, human rights would be respected.

Brexit and the Bar Council: the Great Paper Debate

I have written a few times about the ongoing uncertainty regarding the outcome of the UK’s referendum on continued membership of the EU, and the legal sector.

Between the issue of whether UK lawyers would be qualified to work in the EU, and UK lawyers thus seeking re-qualification in Ireland, to the issue of the CJEU and whether justice was a priority for the British government during negotiations (it is not, I believe), there constantly have been queries regarding UK law, and how it will operate post-Brexit.

It would seem that the legal sector is growing tired of the lack of official clarification, and wants some certainty restored and answers given.

The Bar Council of England and Wales has said the British government should seek to clarify how it intends to pursue its future relationship with the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), claiming a white paper on its break away from EU law merely ‘scratches the surface’ of the issue. A valid point, as the White Paper has a little section (‘little’ is an appropriate description; it is just four pages long) entitled ‘EU Law in the UK’. Only, it happens to be an annex at the end of the entire White Paper.

In response to the Department for Exiting the EU’s Great Repeal Bill White Paper, the Bar body said domestic courts’ future relationship with the EU will be ‘complex and nuanced’.

For example, the Bar Council said the White Paper does not deal with the possibility of UK courts making references to the CJEU post-Brexit ‘in proceedings concerning a factual situation governed by EU law arising pre-Brexit.’ Conceding this might be considered a ‘rather technical point’, the Bar Council argued whatever provision the Great Repeal Bill makes ‘might not prevent the CJEU from finding other routes to assuming jurisdiction over things taking place in the UK during the period when the treaties remain applicable’.

Moreover, it said there will ‘presumably be a need to provide for the domestic consequences of any dispute-resolution mechanism between the UK and EU appearing in the withdrawal agreement and likewise in any future agreement for the new relationship’.

The Bar Council said it is currently preparing a paper on the CJEU which it says it hopes will provide more opportunity to contribute to the British government’s thinking on matters.

The council added that it is concerned that specific safeguards recommended by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution are not ‘watered down into vaguer ministerial assurances’ and should be clearly written into the text of the bill.

Safeguards proposed include that powers to enact delegated legislation will be used only ‘so far as is necessary to adapt the body of EU law to fit the UK’s domestic framework’ and ‘to implement the result of the UK’s negotiations with the EU’.

 

The Bar Council submitted: ‘…we consider that the white paper could have been clearer on what is or is not to be treated as “EU- derived law” as time progresses and what the approach will be to future changes to EU law which might affect that “EU-derived law” beyond the point of exit from the EU.’

It will be interesting to see what the Bar Council’s paper proposes. No doubt it will be detailed, and will aim to provide more clarity and certainty on the issue. This just goes to show how complex the negotiations will be, and indeed, how unprepared the British government appears to be.

Human rights working group – Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

For the past couple of months, a group of QUB students, including myself, have been part of a working group on human rights in Northern Ireland. We are focusing particularly on the need for a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland, as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement 1998.

The Good Friday Agreement 1998 included the commitment that the upon the establishment of a Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, it would be asked:

“…to consult and to advice on the scope for defining, in Westminster legislation, rights supplementary to those in the ECHR, to reflect the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, drawing as appropriate on international instruments and experiences. These additional rights to reflect the principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of esteem, and – taken together with the ECHR – to constitute a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.”

This commitment was subsequently reflected in the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

As the 19th anniversary of the Agreement recently came and went  against a backdrop of continued political stalemate and inertia, we feel it is time for the Bill of Rights to be prioritised.

A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, which would take into account the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, would ensure legal recognition and protection of the human rights of all our citizens. Human rights has become topical here since the very announcement of the March election, let alone after the smoke cleared and the parties sought to interpret the results delivered by the electorate. As the political situation rumbles on, with legacy cases and Irish key issues, and as the outcome of Brexit remains uncertain, it is time for a Bill of Rights to be realised for the benefit of all.

Bills of rights provide legal recognition and protection of rights to all citizens, but it applies particularly to those within marginalised and vulnerable groups. This is of relevance to Northern Ireland, where human rights issues have been raised in relation to children and women in detention, women accessing reproductive healthcare, equality for the LGBT* community, and the Irish-speaking community. Adopting a Bill of rights would ensure a defense for these communities, and provide legal protection of their rights and redress for violations of same.

A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland is not a new proposition. Since the 1960s, there have been calls from across the political divide for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. The common argument is a Bill of Rights would provide for a stable, shared society built on equality and non-discrimination. As part of a constitutional foundation, it would ensure no matter who was in power, human rights would be respected.

It’s been an utter pleasure to work with fellow students on human rights in NI, and I am looking forward to our future work!

We have written a blog post for Rights NI, an online platform for the discussion of human-rights based issues, entitled ‘QUB student working group calls for renewed consideration of NI Bill of Rights‘.

We are currently working on a report which will merge together our individial research and research papers on the subject. It will ultimately conclude that it is time for a Bill of Rights to be realised and implemented.

I am tasked with overseeing the report, and have spent the a couple of evenings after work merging the documents together. It has been fascinating work, and I cannot wait to see where we end up.

US Supreme Court blocks Arkansas from multiple executions.

The US Supreme Court has concluded a dramatic day of legal debate over Arkansas’ unprecedented plan to execute eight prisoners in just 11 days.

The Supreme Court declined to permit the state to go ahead with Monday night’s scheduled executions, in what amounted to a major victory for the condemned inmates’ lawyers and anti-death penalty campaigners. The outcome is certain to give weight to the other pending cases, and confidence to the defense lawyers of the remaining five death-row inmates who still face execution, starting with Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee on Thursday of this week.

The Supreme Court took several hours to reach its decision, finally announcing at 11.50pm that it had declined to lift a stay on the execution of Don Davis, 54, imposed earlier in the day by the Supreme Court of Arkansas. The judgment brought the number of condemned prisoners who have now been spared the audacious execution schedule set by Republican State Governor Asa Hutchinson to three. The State Governor has found himself in a rush to use a batch of the lethal injection drug midazolam before it expires at the end of the month. Had the Governor’s proposed schedule gone according to plan, it would have marked the most intense schedule of executions in the US in more than 50 years. Even double executions on the same day are rare; the last time it was attempted, by Oklahoma in 2014, it led to a “bloody mess”.

Scott Braden, an attorney for Davis, said the US Supreme Court Justices had heard that Davis had been denied proper independent counsel on the question of his mental health. According to his defence counsel, Davis has an intellectual disability, a history of head injuries, brain damage, fetal alcohol syndrome, and other mental health conditions.

In a statement, Hutchinson said:

“While this has been an exhausting day for all involved, tomorrow we will continue to fight back on last-minute appeals and efforts to block justice for the victims’ families.”

Hutchinson’s schedule had seemed certain to proceed, after a ruling from the Eighth Circuit Appeals Court in St Louis, Missouri, which overturned an earlier temporary injunction imposed by a federal judge. That had opened up the possibility that at least six executions might still go ahead between now, and the end of April.

The Eighth Circuit Appeal overturned the ruling by federal district judge Kristine Baker, in which she questioned the reliability of midazolam, the sedative that is used as the first chemical in Arkansas’ triple lethal injection protocol.

“If midazolam does not adequately anaesthetise plaintiffs, or if their executions are ‘botched’, they will suffer severe pain before they die,” Baker wrote in her opinion.

Until the decision came down from the US Supreme Court, officials with the Arkansas Department of Corrections had been undertaking preparations for the execution to go ahead. Davis had been given his final meal, witnesses had been put in place in the death chamber, and the execution team was being readied.

Of course, Hutchinson’s schedule has merely been limited, not curtailed in its entirety. Attention now swings to the next set of executions on Thursday and beyond. The governor’s spokesperson underlined the determination of the state to press on with its grim timescale. The spokesperson has said the state “will continue, on Thursday, on Monday and then Thursday”, referring to the schedule of death warrants that allows for two executions to take place on each of the next two set dates, and one on 27 April.

But lawyers for the next prisoners set to be executed are already gearing up for an intense legal battle. The influential Innocence Project has joined local defence lawyers in Arkansas to call for DNA testing in the case of Johnson, and the ACLU has also now filed on behalf of Lee on grounds of DNA testing and innocence, and intellectual disability.

As a new death warrant would have to be set for Davis and Ward, with the process of final review of their cases having to start from scratch, it is understood there is not time to reschedule their executions this month in time to avail of the midazolam before its expiration date.

It must be recalled that due to strict distribution controls imposed by more than 30 drug companies in the US and abroad, it is now very difficult for states which carry out the death penalty to acquire medicines for use in state executions.

It remains to be seen what unfolds for the other men currently scheduled for execution. It also remains to be seen whether the death penalty is slowly but surely scheduled for its own end in the USA.

 

LSE-DB merger meets Brexit politics.

You might remember how I once wrote a blog post or two about the proposed London Stock Exchange-Deutsche Börse mega-merger.

This merger was supposed to create a bridge between Frankfurt, the Eurozone’s financial capital, and post-Brexit London, Europe’s and -sometime – world’s financial centre. However, the mega-merger designed to create a European champion for investors and listed companies — the very embodiment of the Commission’s capital markets union — is in deep trouble. And Brexit is its name.

Uncertainty about the UK’s future in Europe is what might just end the Deutsche Börse-LSE merger.

A few weeks ago, the London Stock Exchange announced its long-planned tie-up with Frankfurt-based Deutsche Börse was in troubled waters. The given reason for the situation was the claim that the LSE held ownership of an obscure Italian bond trading platform. Whilst the €29 billion deal was always far from a sure thing, and technicalities, for all their trouble are still important waters to navigate, the reality is that Brexit has caused jitters.

The merger between the two leading European exchange groups was left hanging by a thread after the LSE announced it was not able to meet a key condition for approval by European Commission competition authorities.

“Based on the Commission’s current position, [London Stock Exchange Group] believes that the Commission is unlikely to provide clearance for the merger,” LSE said.

LSE said the issue is that in mid-February, the Commission ‘unexpectedly’ asked the company to sell its majority stake in MTS, an Italian platform for trading bonds. The Commission’s competition directorate wanted LSE to commit to the sale by Monday, 27th February. The day before this deadline, the LSE said it could not do that.

The exchange’s statement does not explain why, but it implies that the Italian authorities didn’t want it to sell:

“Following dialogue with Italian authorities about the Commission’s required remedy and given prior discussions between the principals and Italian authorities regarding LSEG’s Italian businesses in the context of the merger, the LSEG Board believes that it is highly unlikely that a sale of MTS could be satisfactorily achieved, even if LSEG were to give the commitment.”

The LSE statement also implied that the deal’s chances are now slim. In the last paragraph, it says the company’s board “is highly confident in the strength of the [LSE’s] business, strategy and prospects on a standalone basis, under its strong management team led by Chief Executive Xavier Rolet,” who was going to leave after the merger but would presumably stay if there is no deal.

The Commission has until the 3rd April to make a decision on the issue – a date notably set after the proposed deadline for the British Prime Minister to invoke Art 50, and commence the process of formally withdrawing the UK from the EU.

The fact of the matter is, this was always going to be a very political deal, and it became an even more political deal after Brexit.

After months of preparation, a merger of this scale is not going to wither away on a technicality. What could yet end it is uncertainty over the UK’s departure from the EU.

Given that Theresa May has yet to even invoke Art 50, it remains too early to predict what type of arrangement the UK will acquire from the EU for the City of London. The regulatory uncertainty that financial companies face in the interim makes a deal like the LSE-DB merger risky if not outright negligent. Add to that the suddenly toxic politics in London, and on the Continent, around anything that touches on future relations between the two.

Of course, something might happen which would keep the merger alive. Some type of three-way deal might be struck between the LSE, the Italian authorities, and the Commission to allow the LSE to sell its big stake in the Italian bond-trading platform MTS to a buyer approved by the Italians.

But would require the Commission to extend the deadline for a deal to be agreed. And that’s not looking too likely.

Now, should the merger ultimately fail, the LSE could become the subject of another bid. This would most likely be in the form of a US rival, perhaps ICE or Nasdaq. Alternatively, an Asian may step into the frame, such as the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. These non-European suitors could be emboldened by the lower pound and the likely fall in the value of the LSE’s shares if the DB deal fails.

Regardless of what unfolds, Brexit will be on everyone’s lips. 

Brexit is already having a corrosive effect on the UK’s business ties with the Continent. There may be few signs the UK economy had taken a hit in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum, but the possible decline of the LSE deal is just the sort of longer-term damage many economists warned about before the vote.

One of the key issues on the list for EU and British Brexit negotiators — in addition to citizen rights, and the ongoing debate over a so-called ‘divorce bill’ — will be how to uphold all the deals and investments negotiated on the assumption that the UK belongs to the EU. As the apparent LSE-DB breakup seemingly demonstrates, many investors just cannot afford to wait for the politicians to sort it all out.

Mutual recognition hope for lawyers

I have written recently about the legal issues caused by the uncertainty triggered by Brexit. I feel that it is becoming increasingly evident that the ramifications of the vote to Leave the EU last summer were never fully considered by the British government, especially within the legal sector.

Such legal issues include the practise of law in a post-Brexit UK. I noted last year that many practising solicitors in the UK were opting to register with the Irish Law Society in order to ensure they could continue to practise EU law.

However, there perhaps could be a solution to hand for those lawyers worrying about their qualifications in the event of the UK eventually withdrawing from the EU: mutual recognition.

For only recently, a former senior trade minister said that the ‘genuinely mutual benefits’ of professional recognition would mean that UK lawyers could expect a continuation of their right to practise in EU jurisdictions post-Brexit.

Lord Maude of Horsham, who was Minister of State for Trade and Investment in former Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, told a press briefing it would be ‘very surprising if mutual recognition arrangements’ could not be sorted out relatively easily.

Lord Maude, now a senior adviser at US firm Covington, was also a government minister from 1987-1992, and had a direct role in the design of Directive 89/48/EEC on which subsequent professional recognition regulations were based.

Such continuation of the mutual recognition regulations was likely, Lord Maude said, because the ‘benefits on both sides’ were now well-established.

The former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, who is also a senior adviser at the same firm, identified ‘justice’ as an area where early agreement between the EU and UK can be reached.

I wrote recently on the very topic of ‘justice’ with regards to the Brexit and the upcoming negotiations. I noted that justice does not seem to feature highly on the UK government’s list of priorities entering the negotiations. The UK government, as we are all too aware of, prefers instead to prioritise economic matters rather than legal matters. This is despite the fact that the UK co-operates closely with other EU Member States in relation to matters of justice, and law and order. Whilst I feel that justice is not recognised as an area of priority entering the Brexit negotiations the UK government, Mr Bildt’s comments regarding justice being a potential area for early agreement seems promising. (I will keep my fingers crossed.)

However, Mr Bildt did warn that while the UK government expected Art 50 and interim arrangements could happen ‘in parallel’, the EU negotiating team did not match that expectation. ‘Their mandate is just a divorce mandate,’ he noted.

Yet perhaps lawyers’ concerns are not entirely without foundation, nor do they look set to be reassured soon. Jonathan Goldsmith, the former secretary-general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), commented:

‘The lawyers’ directives are not standalone but depend on what will happen on mutual recognition and the single market overall. If we are out of the single market without exceptions, and have to return to WTO rules, then there are big problems.’

As we know from Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent Brexit speech, the UK goverment is now committed to a so-called ‘hard Brexit’ which would see the UK withdraw entirely from the EU, including the Single Market. Thus, Mr Goldsmith’s comments are indeed worrying.

Mickael Laurans, who is the Head of the Law Society’s Brussels office, said the qualified lawyers transfer scheme would mean continued recognition for EU lawyers in England and Wales. However, he did also note that reciprocal agreement for solicitors and barristers post-Brexit ‘would depend on the goodwill’ of the EU’s 27 member states. Perhaps it is just me, but that does not ring with optimism.

We can hope that the current model might be used as a foundation to build something constructive in the future and regardless of the deal that eventually is negotiated between the UK and EU. But it appears that until we are informed of the final agreed deal, a lot of uncertainty and question marks will persistently remain, particularly in the legal sector.