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The most significant event last month was the publication by the European Commission of a draft agreement for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community on 28 Feb 2018. It has not yet been presented to the British government as it must first be discussed by the governments of the remaining member states and the Brexit steering group of the European Parliament, I sketched out its structure and main provisions in The Draft Withdrawal Agreement: Getting Down to Business at Last 3 March 2018.
There has been some grumbling from the British side, particularly over the border between Ireland and Great Britain and no doubt some concessions will be made here and there by both parties but the basic shape and content of the agreement contemplated by art 50 (2) of the Treaty of European Union is unlikely to be very different. There is not much room for movement on the European side because the Commission's negotiators are bound by the Council's Guidelines of the 29 April 2017. Moreover, the draft is said to be based on the Joint report from the negotiators of the European Union and the United Kingdom Government on progress during phase 1 of negotiations under Article 50 TEU on the United Kingdom's orderly withdrawal from the European Union (see No Fudge - the Next Stage of Negotiations between the EU and UK 12 Feb 2018). So if we want a trade deal of any kind with the remaining member states of the European Union we will have to accept something like that draft. The alternative is no deal at all.
The most welcome aspect of the Prime Minister's Mansion House speech of 2 March 2018 were the following hard facts:
There are still folk who think that cake exists for eating and cherries for picking but it does not appear that the Prime Minister is one of them (see Mrs May's Mansion House Speech: Some Home Truths At Last 4 March 2018).
- "Brexit will be no bed of roses: 'We are leaving the single market. Life is going to be different. In certain ways, our access to each other's markets will be less than it is now. How could the EU's structure of rights and obligations be sustained, if the UK - or any country - were allowed to enjoy all the benefits without all of the obligations?
- 'Even after we have left the jurisdiction of the ECJ, EU law and the decisions of the ECJ will continue to affect us.' Aside from the niggle that the initials 'ECJ' are no longer used as that tribunal is now known as the Court of Justice of the European Union ('CJEU') and has been for many years, I welcome that remark. It will make it easier to reach agreement on the withdrawal treaty and it may just make it possible for the UK to remain a party to the Uniform Patent Court Agreement. On the other hand, she omitted to say that the UK will lose its judge and advocate general on the Court who have hugely influenced its decisions since 1973.
- No State Aids or Featherbedding: 'If we want good access to each other's markets, it has to be on fair terms. As with any trade agreement, we must accept the need for binding commitments - for example, we may choose to commit some areas of our regulations like state aid and competition to remaining in step with the EU's.'
Finally, some crumbs of comfort on the Uniform Patent Court ("UPC"). The first is that the legislative hurdles to British ratification of the UPC Agreement appear to have been cleared. Secondly, as I noted above, the Prime Minister is prepared to countenance some future role for the CJEU in British affairs after we quite the EU which removes one of the difficulties that I mentioned in my article What if anything can be salvaged from the UPC Agreement? 26 Jan 2018 NIPC Law and my presentation to Queen Mary University London on 12 Feb 2018 (see My Contribution to the Discussion on the Implications of Brexit at Queen Mary University London on Monday 12 Feb 2018 17 Feb 2018). The third crumb is that the constitutional challenge to German ratification of the UPC agreement (Verfassungsbeschwerde gegen das Zustimmungsgesetz zu dem Übereinkommen vom 19. Februar 2013 über ein Einheitliches Patentgericht (EPGÜ)) has been listed for hearing in the German Constitutional Court in Karsruhe before Professor Dr Huber under case number 2 BvR 739/17. Fourthly, there was nothing unhelpful to the UPC in Title IV of Part 3 of the draft withdrawal agreement which covers intellectual property.
Anyone wishing to discuss this briefing or Brexit in general should call me on +44 (0)20 7404 5252 during normal office hours or send me a message through my contact form.