May warned of looming battle over devolution
Committee warns children face hardship due to Brexit Legal complications also a risk to firms, says report
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.”