A fishy tale …

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (or just Boris if you’re one of his legions of adoring followers) has been caught out yet (again) when pontificating about the UK’s unbalanced relationship with the European Union (see my previous blog “Private prosecutions” published on 29 May 2019).

The man most likely to be the next British Prime Minister May have thought that it was very clever (and theatrical no doubt) to brandish a kipper during a final hustings event of Conservative Party members in his pitch to win the Party’s leadership campaign.

By using the kipper, Mr Johnson wanted to make a broader point about the apparent interference of the EU in Britain’s laws. Now, I often teach students about the supremacy of EU law in the UK by dint of the fact that the Westminster Parliament passed the European Communities Act 1972, but if Mr Johnson had been one of my students he would have failed his EU Law exam.

Why?

Firstly, the kipper originated from the Isle of Man – which although a British Crown dependency – isn’t technically part of the UK and, therefore, not part of the EU.

Secondly, the food safety rules which govern items like kippers (which are deemed to be preserved rather than fresh fish) fall within the legislative competence of the UK – not the EU. Although the Isle of Man is not part of the UK, the UK Food Standards Agency would regulate the product since it is being sold in this country.

It would seem that Mr Johnson was either unaware of these facts or simply chose to ignore them.

Then again, Mr Johnson has a long track record of EU bashing from his time as a Brussels based journalist with The Daily Telegraph, so it would seem that he is doing what, for a long time, has just come naturally to him.

On a serious point, however, interventions by individuals such as Mr Johnson make it very difficult for the public to have an informed debate about the UK’s relationship with the EU. This is a state of affairs that we may come to regret given the predictions by the UK Office of Budget Responsibility of the grim consequences if this country crashes out of the EU without a proper and effective withdrawal agreement.

A link to the story on the Sky News website can be found below:

http://news.sky.com/story/eu-exposes-johnsons-kipper-red-tape-claim-as-nonsense-11765805

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 19 July 2019

In … definitely not out … yet

photo-1531412501799-1b4c354ca957.jpg

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

You might be forgiven for thinking that the United Kingdom has already left the European Union, but this country remains very much a member state – for the time being. This means that the UK is still subject to all of its legal obligations under European primary legislation (e.g. the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) and EU secondary legislation (Regulations, Directives, Decisions etc).

An interesting example of this was reported in The Independent (4 February 2019) where it would appear that the European Commission is in the process of taking enforcement action against the UK in relation to untreated sewage leaks at sites in Sunderland and London.

The link to the article in The Independent can be found below:

UK facing EU court after failing to stop sewage spills

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.040219/data/8761361/index.html

This article has been gifted to you by an Independent Subscriber. If you enjoyed reading this, why not take out a free trial subscription to the Daily Edition?

Apparently, this has been an ongoing environmental problem for some 5 or 6 years now – despite assurances given by the water companies that the issue has been rectified. Enforcement action by the European Commission is governed by Article 258 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Article 279 of the TFEU, covering interim measures, may also be relevant here. Sometimes an ongoing breach of Treaty or legal obligations by a member state can cause serious, irreparable harm and (interim) measures may be required to prevent this. It should be appreciated that EU enforcement action could take several years before a judgment is issued and this is why the possible option of interim measures is so useful for the European Commission.

The UK Government has received a Letter of Notice from the European Commission which highlights alleged breaches of the EU Urban Waste Treatment Directive (Council Directive 91/271/EEC). At Whitburn in Sunderland, the European Commission has calculated that 300,000 tonnes of untreated sewage had managed to get into the water system in the period from January to August 2018.

The Independent article goes on to quote several Labour Party Members of the European Parliament who voice their fears about the very real prospect of declining environmental standards when the UK finally leaves the EU.

This is not the first time that the UK has got itself into bother with EU environmental protection laws (since victory of “Vote Leave” in the Referendum of 23 June 2016) as the link to an article in The Guardian from January 2018 demonstrates:

UK taken to Europe’s highest court over air pollution

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/17/uk-taken-to-europes-highest-court-over-air-pollution

Conclusion

This dispute over water quality may rumble on – even after Brexit – and there is the possibility of fines being imposed on the UK for failure to comply with the Urban Waste Treatment Directive. Some might ask why the UK would continue to be bound by the consequences of the Directive after Brexit? Well, it’s like any divorce: when you’re a party to a pre-existing, legally enforceable agreement, it doesn’t simply end upon dissolution of the marriage. This is perhaps something that we’re going to appreciate more fully when Brexit finally happens.

As Yannis Varoufakis, the Economist and former Greek Finance Minister, stated in September 2016: the EU is like the Hotel California (the 1976 song made famous by US rock group, The Eagles). “You can check out any time you like, But you can never leave!”

So … for the moment, we’re definitely still in.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, February 2019