Thursday 18 January 2018

Ireland given Brexit-deal veto lifeline after ruling by European Court of Justice

The ruling is likely to weaken Britain’s bargaining position on any post-Brexit deal. Stock photo: PA
The ruling is likely to weaken Britain’s bargaining position on any post-Brexit deal. Stock photo: PA
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Ireland could end up with a veto over any post-Brexit trade deal between the EU and the UK following a significant ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The ruling, relating to a 2014 trade deal between the EU and Singapore, has ramifications for Brexit as it suggests trade pacts need to be signed off by 33 national and regional parliaments across the 28-nation bloc.

It is likely to weaken Britain's bargaining position on any post-Brexit deal as individual member states could hold it up or reject it if they believe the terms are not favourable to their interests.

While Ireland won't have to ratify the Article 50 "divorce" agreement between the UK and the EU, it and other EU member states are now likely to get a veto on any subsequent trade deal.

Last year, the Belgian region of Wallonia almost derailed the CETA free trade pact amid concern about exposing farmers to competition from Canada, only to back down after a compromise was reached.

The European Commission had hoped the ECJ would rule that Brussels could be free to implement the Singapore deal without having to consult national and regional parliaments.

However, the court found that while large parts of the Singapore deal fell within the centralised powers of the EU, key elements, particularly those concerning investment, required consent from individual member states.

Officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs said they were carefully studying the judgment.


In a statement, the department said that as negotiations on the UK's withdrawal from the EU had yet to begin, it was not yet known what the content of the future relationship agreement will be.

"However, if matters falling within member state competence are included, national ratification procedures must be completed," it said.

Experts say any post-Brexit trade deal is likely to have a mix of elements requiring ratification by individual parliaments.

Professor Gavin Barrett, of the Sutherland School of Law at UCD, said the ECJ ruling made securing a trade deal much more difficult for the UK.

"This complicates getting the second agreement because getting it ratified by all of the member states will take time," he said.

"It will probably take several years by the time it is done by all of the member states. They have different ratification processes. Some of them involve the intervention of regional parliaments, so that slows everything down."

Prof Barrett said this meant it would be all the more important for the UK to get some sort of transitional trade accord during Article 50 negotiations which would remain in force pending a fuller trade deal.

The UK is seeking a trade agreement which would allow it to keep much of its current access to Europe's single market once it quits the EU in March 2019.

Irish Independent

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