May warned of loom­ing bat­tle over de­vo­lu­tion

Com­mit­tee warns chil­dren face hard­ship due to Brexit Le­gal com­pli­ca­tions also a risk to firms, says re­port

The Guardian - - FRONT PAGE - Jes­sica El­got

Theresa May will face de­mands from the lead­ers of de­volved gov­ern­ments to rad­i­cally re­think her ap­proach to the union as she be­gins a tour of the four na­tions of the UK be­fore be­gin­ning Bri­tain’s exit from the EU.

Down­ing Street said the vis­its, which will be­gin to­day in Swansea with the Welsh first min­is­ter, Car­wyn Jones, would en­sure the gov­ern­ment was “en­gag­ing and lis­ten­ing to peo­ple from right across the na­tion” be­fore trig­ger­ing ar­ti­cle 50.

But Jones told the Guardian that May’s “tin ear” on is­sues of de­vo­lu­tion meant that West­min­ster would soon re­place the EU at the heart of vot­ers’ frus­tra­tions at hav­ing their af­fairs man­aged from afar.

He said there was a “bat­tle loom­ing” over the grant­ing of greater de­volved pow­ers for the UK na­tions – a move backed this week­end by the for­mer prime min­is­ter Gor­don Brown – which the gov­ern­ment had to take se­ri­ously or risk the frac­tur­ing of the coun­try.

“If they are not care­ful, peo­ple’s sense of dis­en­gage­ment with Brus­sels will sim­ply at­tach it­self to Lon­don,” Jones said. “They are giv­ing the im­pres­sion some­times that they do not lis­ten.

“And what kind of mes­sage is that to the peo­ple of Wales? We need to see there is a div­i­dend in be­ing a de­vo­lu­tion­ist gov­ern­ment that sup­ports the union, and we don’t see that div­i­dend. Oth­er­wise peo­ple in Wales are go­ing to start say­ing: ‘Well, the gov­ern­ment is lis­ten­ing to the Scots – we need to be like them.’ And that’s a dan­ger­ous path for the UK.”

The Welsh in­ter­ven­tion adds to dis­quiet in Scot­land, where Ni­cola Stur­geon re­peated de­mands yes­ter­day for a sec­ond in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum to pave the way for Scot­land to re­main in the Euro­pean sin­gle mar­ket.

In what ap­peared to be a soft­en­ing of her po­si­tion be­fore a po­ten­tial meet­ing this week, Stur­geon added that she was pre­pared to be flex­i­ble on the timetable and de­lay un­til 2019.

Gov­ern­ment sources de­nied the visit to Wales was in any way a re­sponse to the ratch­et­ing up of ten­sions in the union by Stur­geon’s de­mands for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum, which May has said she will not per­mit.

May will un­der­score the value of col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the UK gov­ern­ment and de­volved ad­min­is­tra­tions as she

En­forc­ing the re­turn of chil­dren ab­ducted dur­ing fam­ily break­downs and re­solv­ing in­ter­na­tional busi­ness dis­putes within Europe are among the le­gal mat­ters likely to be­come far more dif­fi­cult af­ter Brexit, a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee has warned.

Peers said Brus­sels reg­u­la­tions played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the lives of UK and EU cit­i­zens, pro­vid­ing “cer­tainty, pre­dictabil­ity and clar­ity” over le­gal dis­putes in di­vorce, child cus­tody and em­ploy­ment.

Un­less mu­tual recog­ni­tion of judg­ments is rene­go­ti­ated, the House of Lords EU jus­tice sub­com­mit­tee main­tains, “there will be real hard­ship” for fam­i­lies and firms who could be sub­ject to 27 sep­a­rate na­tional sets of reg­u­la­tions across EU states.

The regime of re­cip­ro­cal le­gal rules that op­er­ate within the union can­not sim­ply be re­pro­duced through UK leg­is­la­tion such as the gov­ern­ment’s great re­peal bill, ac­cord­ing to the com­mit­tee’s re­port, Brexit: Jus­tice for Fam­i­lies, In­di­vid­u­als and Busi­nesses? A new agree­ment with the EU or tran­si­tional ar­range­ments would be re­quired.

“It is clear that sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems will arise for UK cit­i­zens and busi­nesses,” the re­port says, “if the UK leaves the EU with­out agree­ment on the post-Brexit ap­pli­ca­tion of the [Brus­sels Reg­u­la­tions, which sup­port ju­di­cial rec­i­proc­ity across].”

There will be an “in­evitable in­crease” in cross-bor­der lit­i­ga­tion and a “loss of cer­tainty and pre­dictabil­ity” once the UK has left the Brus­sels reg­u­la­tions sys­tem, the com­mit­tee fears.

“To walk away from these reg­u­la­tions with­out putting al­ter­na­tives in place would se­ri­ously un­der­mine the fam­ily law rights of UK cit­i­zens and would, ul­ti­mately, be an act of self-harm.”

Ev­i­dence pro­vided by the Law So­ci­ety of Eng­land and Wales to the in­quiry sug­gested that un­cer­tainty over Brexit is al­ready hav­ing an im­pact on the UK’s boom­ing mar­ket for le­gal ser­vices and com­mer­cial lit­i­ga­tion. Ex­am­ples of the type of dif­fi­cul­ties that may emerge, given by the re­port, in­cludes the sit­u­a­tion where a mother in a failed re­la­tion­ship with a Bri­tish fa­ther flees to her na­tive Poland with the child.

“Hav­ing failed to per­suade the child’s mother to re­turn the child, the fa­ther knows that he needs to go to court to get his daugh­ter back” but post-Brexit he may be con­fronted by a dilemma over which court to use, the re­port says.

In an­other fu­ture case, the com­mit­tee sug­gests, a clothes man­u­fac­turer in Manch­ester who finds cot­ton or­dered from a Greek firm to be sub­stan­dard will have prob­lems over where a claim over li­a­bil­ity should be heard.

The gov­ern­ment’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to with­draw from the ju­ris­dic­tion of the Euro­pean court of jus­tice in Lux­em­bourg, the EU’s high­est court, will make the process of de­vel­op­ing new cross-bor­der agree­ments even harder, the com­mit­tee warns.

The Labour peer Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, who is chair of the Lords EU jus­tice sub­com­mit­tee, said: “Un­less the gov­ern­ment can agree a re­place­ment of the ex­ist­ing rules on mu­tual recog­ni­tion of judg­ments, there will be great un­cer­tainty over ac­cess to jus­tice for fam­i­lies, busi­nesses and in­di­vid­u­als.

“The com­mit­tee heard clear and con­clu­sive ev­i­dence that there are no means by which the re­cip­ro­cal rules cur­rently in place can be repli­cated in the great re­peal bill. Do­mes­tic leg­is­la­tion can’t bind the other 27 mem­ber states.

“We there­fore call on the gov­ern­ment to se­cure ad­e­quate al­ter­na­tive ar­range­ments, whether as part of a with­drawal agree­ment or a tran­si­tional deal.”

A gov­ern­ment spokes­woman said: “The UK has led the way in terms of civil ju­di­cial co-op­er­a­tion, and this will not change af­ter the UK leaves the EU.

“We are con­fi­dent that our al­lies in the EU will work with us to en­sure a seam­less tran­si­tion.

“It is clearly in our mu­tual in­ter­est to main­tain a frame­work that serves and pro­tects fam­i­lies, con­sumers and busi­nesses.

“In terms of fam­ily law, we recog­nise the cru­cial im­por­tance of cer­tainty and clar­ity and avoid­ance of de­lay for chil­dren and fam­i­lies in­volved in dis­putes.”

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