An interesting ruling has been made by the Irish supreme court which has some far reaching implications.
Basically, an Irish citizen, who ran a business in the UK but is now back in Ireland, is being pursued by the British for non-payment of tax. As I mentioned in a recent post, its not uncommon for business owners to dodge payment of VAT or raid the company pension fund and get away with it. So this is a rare case of one of them being held to account (presumably because he didn’t go to the right school).
Anyway, the British applied for a European arrest warrant. However, said tax dodgers lawyers argued the defendant cannot be guaranteed a fair trial in the UK as he will lose his civil right part way through the process (due to brexit) and thus he cannot be extradited. Well the judge agreed and to be fair he does have a point, given the contradictory positions coming out of London, which includes withdrawal from the ECJ and ending the 4 freedoms of the EU on April 1st 2019 and even withdrawing from the European convention of human rights (or walking away without any agreement at all).
Of course the legal implications of this ruling is that effectively every Irish citizen living in the UK now has a get-out-of-jail free card. I could go down to London tomorrow and go around the museums, smashing national treasures with a hurley, then take a crap in one of the Queen’s fountains, kick her Corgi’s, shoot a swan, etc. So long as I could make it to a ferry port or airport and get back to Ireland before they issue an arrest warrant (or if I did get arrested, absconded while on bail) then I’m home free.
Naturally this hardly good news (particularly given that are some less than law abiding Irish people, who don’t particularly like the Queen…nor the brexiters!). It should be noted that the Irish government opposed this ruling (for what should be obvious reasons) and were supporting the extradition case. But it highlights the consequences of the legal minefield the UK is about to stray into post-brexit and the chaos that could ensue.
Because when Theresa May says “brexit means brexit”…then repeatedly fails to clarify what that means. Well what’s going to happen is that what brexit means will be decided not by the UK parliament, nor even the EU, but by judges, customs officials and lowly civil servants in the four corners of the world. Without a clear agreement in place and with the UK taking a contradictory position (get free trade, but ending the four freedoms), its left to these people to use their own judgement, which can lead to unpredictable results.
For example, take those European health and safety laws the brexiters love to hate. Well without those laws on the statute books and with no agencies to replace them and provide regulatory oversight, companies can no longer use “compliance with all European safety standards” as their defence when being sued in court. Also there are liability limits in many cases for civil law suits, even when negligence can be proven (this is why you don’t see $2.8 million payouts over a spilt cup of coffee in Europe). So in theory, such caps on payouts could disappear and it would become a lot harder to defend against civil suits, which would see insurance premiums soar. And recall, its not just a simple matter of the UK bringing in new laws. The injured party might be in Europe (or worse America!).
And to give perhaps a more specific example, with the UK withdrawing from the European nuclear regulator on April 2019, who is going to regulate the countries nuclear power plants? There’s a risk that they might be forced to shut down and Hinkley C mothballed. And again, this is not a decision the UK parliament will get to make, it will be made by HSE inspectors, insurers or company boards. Also, what if there were to be a problem with Hinkley C, e.g. let’s supposed the French screw up somehow (as has happened with a few recent projects) or there’s an accident and the British try to sue them or prosecute EDF executives. Will the French allow that? Well maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Will a French judge allow their extradition? Who knows! Let’s just say I’m glad I live at the opposite end of the country.
Or let’s suppose a French local politician decides that henceforth British cheese is banned because it contains dangerous ingredients (English milk). Or he insists it’s labelled “du Fromage Roast beef”. What are the producers of British cheese supposed to do?
Yes, there are legal ways to settle these issues. The tax dodger’s case has now been referred to the ECJ (who may overturn the ruling). The Irish government is already talking about a new post-brexit extradition treaty. Trade disputes can be resolved via the WTO. However, this is not a case of flicking a switch. Such cases take months or even years to resolve (so our tax dodgers case may simply time out, or a company caught in limbo might go out of business). New treaties can take equally long to draft and sign. And it requires good co-operation from both sides for such negotiations to run smoothly. If the UK follows through on the brexiters plan, which is basically to undertake brexit negotiations in bad faith, then you can forget about it.
This is the real danger that the brexiters are missing. They could find themselves stuck in a legal quagmire and it won’t be easy to get out of it. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to Google “how do you roast a swan?”.