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Comment on Britain leaving the European Union

I know that I have not updated my blog in quite some time – this past year has been by far the busiest of my life professionally, especially whilst going through the PhD thesis completion process (I am currently undertaking corrections to my thesis which will be submitted in a matter of weeks), leaving little time for additional writing such as on this blog. This is something I hope will be eased over the coming year allowing me some time to devote to it.

I could write a very large blog on the subject of this morning’s decision in the EU referendum to leave the EU, however I am already considering ways to edit an already drafted article to include discussion of this, so will leave the majority of what I could say for then.

I do want to go on record to say, however, that having taught different aspects of EU law, constitutional law, and other aspects of international law since 2007 (as well as acting as external examiner for these subjects at more than one other UK University during the past five years), I was distraught at the manner in which both the leave and remain campaign were conducted. No real factual information beyond the most basic was communicated, and each side relied on little more than who could scare the population the most into voting the way they wanted.

From a workers’ and more general human rights perspective, the so called brexit is nothing short of a disaster. The perception of many is that the EU ‘dictated’ laws to the UK – nothing could be further from the truth. The UK for decades, more specifically since the progression from EC to EU in the Maastricht Treaty, and again since the development of the current EU framework with the Treaty of Lisbon, has been fully involved in all major legislative programmes at EU Commission, Parliament, and Council level. The ordinary legislative process of the EU is also actually much more democratic than the mass media, and those with an agenda would have you believe; for example, most people do not realise that the entire Commission is accountable to the EU Parliament (the directly elected EU Institution), and this is not only a theoretical power – in 1999 the Santer led Commission was effectively forced to resign en mass; jumping before they were pushed by the Parliament. The only Commissioner that refused to resign, Édith Cresson, was taken to court in Case C-432/04 (Commission of the European Communities versus Édith Cresson), and judged to have been in breach of her obligations as a Commissioner.

The majority of EU laws from a rights perspective have been, are, and will continue to be to give a level of protection to EU Citizens; a set of minimum standards and protections that all Citizens can expect regardless of whether they are in Italy, Poland, Greece, or the UK.

These rights could be in the areas of employment and labour laws (an area I used to teach, and was still involved in external examining for until 2015, so am still very up to date with my knowledge of), or from my current professional interests’ perspective in the area of justice.

For example, one area that I did not see mentioned a single time during the EU debate was that the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014, a piece of legislation that gives legally binding rights to victims of crime including the right for a victim to require that a decision not to prosecute an alleged offender is reviewed by the COPFS, and also gives legal recognition to the relatives of a deceased victim to be classed as victims in their own right, as well as numerous other positive legal rights, stems directly from the Directive establishing minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime [Directive 2012/29/EU ]. The Scottish 2014 Act was created purely to comply with our EU obligation to improve legal rights and safeguards for victims of crime; prior to this the majority of policies relating to victims’ ‘rights’ were not legally enforceable and open to alteration at any stage by our domestic legislature. Without EU protection, this important legislation could be amended or abolished at any time – and to be clear I am not saying it will be – but the safeguard in place through the EU was one that ensured any changes to victims’ rights would have to be agreed by the other Member States of the EU, and as such any reduction in rights would be incredibly unlikely. Sadly, the citizens of the UK and Scotland will in the near future no longer benefit from this safeguarded position.

Again, I do not have a lot of time right now to devote to a more full blog on this issue, but wanted to at least leave something that shows my feelings on the matter. The next question to be answered is whether or not in light of the massive division in the ideology relating to this subject between Scotland and England (for any international readers – Scotland voted 62% to 38% in favour of staying in the EU, and with all constituencies without exception voting to remain, hence complete unanimity), there will be a real push for a further Scottish independence referendum and subsequent application to Join the EU as a Member State in its own right. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has already discussed briefly that this is ‘on the table’, but the detail remains to be seen.

Hopefully I will manage to find the time to update again in the near future.

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Posted by on June 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Government manipulation of European Union report

For those of you reading this that might not know too much about my background, I have taught various combinations of Constitutional Law, EU Law and Advanced EU Law at UWS since 2007. In addition to this, I am also currently an external examiner for Constitutional Law, EU Law and Advanced EU Law at another University in Scotland. In other words, I have been heavily involved in the area of EU law in both a research and teaching sense for a number of years as part of my day to day job.

The EU is a complex organisation that is not simple to explain in all of its intricacies to a lay person who doesn’t have hours upon hours, days upon days, or even weeks upon weeks to devote to learning all about it to gain a balanced and fair understanding and opinion. Sadly, the general lack of specific knowledge on matters EU naturally leads a lot of people to be sceptical and negative about the organisation. This is understandable – I mean, who wouldn’t be negative with often (incorrectly) cited terms such as ‘federalist’, ‘lack of democracy’, ‘sticking its nose in’, ‘benefit tourism’ etc. etc. Sadly though, this is a problem created by a combination of various individuals in Government and the media, who do not responsibly report on the European Union.

I have long tried very, very hard when teaching EU Law to inform, without giving my own opinion; to create a balanced perspective on matters such as the creation of EU Laws, Immigration, security and defence, and the rights and responsibilities associated with EU Citizenship. I ask students to leave their preconceptions at the door when entering my EU Law classes and keep an open mind, then at the end of the course to make an informed personal opinion as to if they truly do believe that the EU is a good or bad thing for the UK.

This is why when stories such as this one come out, they really annoy me:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-28368567

In case the article is removed, I would like to share a couple of quotes from it to remain here for posterity:

A report on UK immigration has caused a row within government because Tory ministers believed it was too pro-European, sources have told Newsnight.

The leaked Home Office report draws together evidence from 67 businesses, think tanks, unions and experts.

It concludes the influx of EU migrants has had a largely positive effect, and cites evidence suggesting they are less likely to use benefits than Britons.

The report was re-written twice….

…..Whitehall sources have told Newsnight that the Home Office balked at the initial draft.

Home Secretary Theresa May sent it to the Home Office implementation unit, which rewrote it with more sceptical and negative comments.

The new text could not be agreed on within government and the report was eventually given to a Cabinet Office “star chamber” of civil servants to rule what stayed in and what was left out.

I have a hard enough job as it is trying to foster into large numbers of impressionable students the balanced perspective that I do, without this sort of trash going on. I personally consider it disgraceful that a report is commissioned, with the evidence that follows coming from a large number of relevant sources, which doesn’t ‘fit’ with the Government’s agenda, and so they simply refuse to publish it. Instead they want to deliberately manipulate the content of the report to put in negative rhetoric and spin.

Sadly this is not the first time this sort of nonsense has gone on, and it likely won’t be the last. What is even sadder is that few people will have noticed the news report, and even fewer will care or remember anything about it in months or years to come, yet a large proportion who may eventually see the headlines from the final ‘report’ in all of its manipulated glory, may take from it the negative ‘evidence’ and continue to hold their overwhelmingly negative viewpoints.

A very sad state of affairs, given how important (in my opinion) the UK retaining membership of the EU is in reality.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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EU Law Updates

There are two areas relating to EU Law that I’d like to mention today. The first of these is relating again (as with the Alcohol Bill) to competition laws. Karen Murphy, a landlady of an English pub has won her most recent case hearing in the ECJ relating to the legality of using a foreign (importantly other EU State, Greek) decoder in order to view and display English Premier League football games. A decent summary of the case can be found at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15162241

What is crucial for all of you to understand is that the landlady was not ‘stealing’ anything, and was not getting the games for free. She was in fact paying an annual subscription to the provider to display the games. It just so happens that the subscription was substantially cheaper than a commercial subscription in the UK is for either Sky or ESPN. Sky, ESPN and the Premier League were trying to claim that by using a foreign transmitter, Mrs Murphy was breaching copyright laws (due to the contract the broadcasters have in place for UK broadcast rights), however the ECJ has ruled that a game of football cannot be considered to be intellectual property for the purposes of broadcasting. The only elements that copyright can apply to are broadcaster logos, programme introductions, interviews conducted by broadcaster personnel, highlight packages that have been created by the broadcasters etc. but not the live game itself. Also, of course one of the most fundamental principles within the EU is for free trade of goods and services. It is the ECJ’s interpretation that being restricted in your own EU member state from acquiring a service (in this case a transmitter / decoder card for television) legally from another member state, is an illegal restriction on competition by that state.

Of course this case is likely far from finished, this is just the latest round in the ongoing saga, however should the result be that the UK courts are forced to adhere to the ECJ ruling, it could spell the end for exclusive monopoly deals within individual member states for television rights for live sporting events. It could be that in the future we may see EU wide tendering for broadcast rights, which would only in my opinion be a good thing for competition laws, and EU citizens on the whole.

The second area I want to mention in brief is another article from the BBC with David Cameron discussing his own position relating to the ongoing war of words relating to the UK’s position as an EU state.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-15164497

Of course many of his own Conservative traditionalist backbenchers are making ongoing calls to the effect that the UK should withdraw completely from the EU. (This in my opinion displays a breathtaking naivety of how ingrained EU law is to our own domestic law now and how difficult it would be to withdraw, and also a huge ignorance as to the benefits the UK actually receive due to free trade and movement agreements – simply put, the UK would be MUCH worse off were it to leave the EU in literally every single area of industry without exception).

On the other hand, the other half of the coalition, the Liberal Democrats are about as pro EU as it gets and have said that there is no way that they will allow whilst part of the coalition, for any moves to be made in the direction of pulling out of the EU.

All of this places David Cameron in a tricky situation of course in terms of both appeasing his backbenchers, and maintaining a harmonious relationship within the coalition.

Speaking in response to the Greek economic crisis, Mr Cameron has been quoted by the BBC as saying:

“As eurozone countries move to co-ordinate more, as I believe they should, those outside the eurozone will need certain safeguards to make sure that what the eurozone countries are agreeing separately does not affect the single market…. The eurozone crisis is holding back the whole world economy, Britain included….. Clearly the Greek situation needs to be resolved one way or another and extremely quickly….. I don’t think the choice the country really wants to address is ‘in or out’, I think the choice people would like is ‘actually can we stay in this organisation because it is vital for our trade and economic future but can we change it?….. Most people’s view on Europe, I think, is pretty close to my own which we have to be in there for trade and co-operation. We have always been a trading nation and to cut ourselves off from this market would be a mistake.”

I would like to point out that I am not a Conservaitve in my political outlook, however in relation to most of the above (apart from the need to change the UK relationship with the EU), I agree with Mr Cameron’s sentiments almost entirely.

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Follow up to Scottish Alcohol Bill

I’ve been asked the question relating to the Alcohol Bill, something I posted about yesterday, ‘how can Scotland introduce minimum pricing, isn’t that a breach of EU law?’. So I thought this is something I would address in brief.

The issue is discussed in the British Medical Journal this month by Bryan Christie (Scotland will set minimum price for a unit of alcohol, BMJ 2011; 343:d5869) where he mentions;

            “Although the measure will be approved in Scotland, it may still be blocked under European Union competition laws. Rules on free trade generally do not allow price fixing, which is seen as anticompetitive. In 1978 the European Court of Justice rejected minimum pricing of spirits, and the European Commission has also opposed minimum pricing on tobacco.”

However in creating the legislation, the Scottish Executive has obviously taken advice from various sources and in the Q&A section on the Scottish ‘Government’ the following is stated;

           “Isn’t imposing a minimum price illegal? The Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament has issued a certificate of legislative competence for the Alcohol Bill which includes minimum pricing. This means that he considers the Bill to be within the powers of the Scottish Parliament.” (Minimum Pricing – Questions Answered, Scottish Government, http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Health/health/Alcohol/minimum-pricing/Q-A)

So the Scottish Executive clearly believe that the legislation and implications of it are legal. Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP) have addressed this issue and were involved in the consultation process. Their official policy is that;

           “In the UK and at an EU level, rules on free trade generally do not allow price fixing on the grounds that it is deemed ‘anti-competitive’ and, it is argued, leads to inefficiency in the market. However, it is important to note that the law allows exceptions to these rules. Intervention in the operation of a market can legally be justified in certain circumstances on the grounds of the protection of public health.” (Legal framework for minimum pricing for alcohol, SHAAP, http://www.shaap.org.uk/pages/117,Legal_framework.html)

Now is the problem. What SHAAP are saying is indeed correct. EU law does indeed allow a margin of appreciation for Member States to derogate from certain legal principles on grounds of public health. The real question is whether it can actually justify the derogation if challenged in the European Courts. The problem here is that they are trying to invoke the right to derogate from EU law on grounds of public health for what is in reality a completely legal activity – consuming alcohol.

In my opinion we won’t actually find out the true legal position until / if such a legal challenge is mounted.

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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