Now that the dust has started to settle a little on the EU referendum result, we thought as legal experts here in Staines that we would take a look at the legal implications of divorce from the EU after more than 40 years together.
Firstly, it’s important to say that nothing legally has yet happened. All that has taken place is the equivalent of one party saying to another, “That’s it, I’ve decided I’m leaving you,” and the other party waiting for them to pack their bags and leave.
To make it clear, until Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union is activated we are still a member of the EU.
However, once this is triggered it opens up a tsunami of legal work, where the first task will have to be deciding what UK legislation will be needed to be repealed or amended in order for us to leave.
This would probably start with repealing the European Communities Act 1972 (ECA), which provides for the supremacy of EU law over us. Repealing this would bring an end to the constitutional relationship between the parties.
Then huge amounts of secondary legislation to implement EU law in the UK would have to be analysed and considered by the government as to whether it’s useful or not.
From a business perspective though, even if we decided not to replicate any EU law, companies looking to trade in the EU would still be required to comply with EU laws.
The next issue is European Directives, which require implementation into UK law in order to have effect and mean the government will have to decide whether to embark on reviewing Acts of Parliament and statutory instruments to see what they wish to keep or dispose of. Masses of legislation would need to be amended to take into account the new relationship with the EU.
Of course, what we are being asked about is will UK courts still be bound by decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJUE), which is the final arbiter on questions of the interpretation of EU law.
As leaving to achieve political independence from the influence of EU institutions means it is unlikely the CJEU will continue to have a long term role of direct influence, and it could mean that CJEU decisions would cease to be binding in English courts.
Yet in practice, given the scale of the task of unpicking existing EU-influenced law, the UK courts are likely to continue to have regard to the CJEU rulings for a fair while until a fuller transition has taken place.
So, in conclusion, it is clear to all that extrapolating ourselves from the EU is every bit as huge a job as pretty-much all legal experts have said. It will take many years to sort out.