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Gove scheme for anti-ECJ law either deceptive or reckless

by Hugo Dixon | 07.05.2016

Michael Gove’s latest brilliant idea is for the UK to pass emergency laws to “deal with” the European Court of Justice if we vote to quit the EU. This will either achieve nothing or cause mayhem.

The justice secretary doesn’t want us to trigger the EU treaty’s official exit clause immediately after a Leave vote. He told The Telegraph he would first prefer to hold informal negotiations.

However, Gove does think it would be necessary to pass laws immediately to protect borders and national security. In particular, he thinks Britain will need legislation to allow the deportation of foreign criminals and terrorists, free intelligence agencies from EU law and liberate the army from Brussels diktats.

This pledge – about which Gove gave no more detail – is either hogwash or dangerous.

On the hogwash theory, Vote Leave’s campaign chair is promising to stop the ECJ from doing things that it isn’t doing anyway – but making grand-sounding statements in order to scare the electorate about the court in advance of the referendum.

After all, the EU doesn’t have authority over the intelligence services or the army. Nor has the ECJ told us we can’t deport terrorists. Despite Gove’s assertion that it has stopped us removing Abu Hamza’s daughter-in-law from the country, it hasn’t even ruled on the case.

Earlier this week, The Telegraph was forced by the press watchdog to publish a correction for running this story. One would have hoped the justice secretary was on top of the facts about such a key judicial matter.

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But maybe Gove is being deadly serious when he says he wants to rein in what he describes as a “rogue” court. The radical option would be to amend UK legislation to make clear that the ECJ had no jurisdiction in Britain.

If such a move came when we had actually left the EU, there would be no problem. But Gove’s idea of doing this when we were still in the EU would amount to a breach of our treaty obligations.

Such a proposal by the justice secretary, who also holds the title of Lord Chancellor, would be extraordinary. Britain has been careful for decades to stick to international obligations – on the theory that this sets a good example for the rest of the world and that, if we do so, other countries will in future trust us when we make promises.

Breaching the EU treaty when we wanted an amicable divorce would be particularly foolish. It would poison what would anyway be difficult negotiations. Even if the other countries didn’t retaliate by suspending our voting rights, they could ensure we didn’t get good exit terms.

Gove’s latest scheme is in line with two of his other brilliant ideas – to blackmail our partners until they gave us the terms we want and to use Brexit as a means of breaking up the EU. If Gove gets to implement them, he’ll be the rogue.

Hugo Dixon is the author of The In/Out Question: Why Britain should stay in the EU and fight to make it better. Available here for £5 (paperback), £2.50 (e-book)

One Response to “Gove scheme for anti-ECJ law either deceptive or reckless”

  • You are being a teensy weeny bit misleading, wouldn’t you say? Or perhaps that famous ‘economical with the truth’ applies here?

    The reported “ruling” from the European court was actually an opinion by one of the court’s advocates general, so you are strictly correct in what you say.

    However, what you also need to also say (in the interests of fairness and even handed debate) is the ECJ invariable rules according to the advocates general’s opinion.