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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 18th April 2018.

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Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice) 7:45 pm, 18th April 2018

My Lords, I start by apologising for arriving a moment after the noble Baroness had started speaking. I did not know what had happened to Amendment 13. I want to speak briefly in full support of the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. I do not propose to rehearse all the arguments that we made at Committee at some length, but want to make four very brief points.

First, no one suggested in Committee, on behalf of the Government or anyone else, that the family law provisions contained in the European regulations Brussels I, IIa, the maintenance regulation and the arrangements for the enforcement of obligations and co-operation were not a considerable benefit to the citizens of the UK as well of other member states. Secondly, no one suggested that any benefit would flow from our not continuing to have those regulations applied in the United Kingdom. Thirdly, no one suggested that we could achieve reciprocal protections for UK citizens and citizens from other member states of the EU without negotiating for their continued protection. Fourthly and finally, all that could be said and was said by the Minister for the Government was that it was all a matter for the negotiations, but it would be possible to negotiate arrangements whereby we could continue to benefit from the regulations without accepting the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union in overseeing their implementation.

It is on that point that I take issue with the Government, because I ask why the EU 27 should agree to a set of arrangements affecting private law rights—these are disputes between citizens of different member states, by and large—whereby citizens of those other member states have obligations that are enforceable in their courts at the instance of citizens of the United Kingdom, while the United Kingdom could refuse to honour such obligations unless the courts of the United Kingdom approve their enforcement. In other words, a different set of rules could be said to apply to the UK from the rest of the Union.

The Government’s obsession—and I use the word without embarrassment—with the direct effect of CJEU decisions in cases involving treaty rights threatens to scupper the whole system of family law protections that is so important to our citizens, as well as to the citizens of other member states. The noble Lord said that it would be easy to negotiate other agreements for non-binding decisions. That, I suggest, is simply impossible to achieve. I do not see any difficulty with our accepting, in the case of private law rights between citizens, the binding nature of decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union. That way, we could commit, and commit early, to continuing to have all the rights and benefits for all citizens bound by the regulations for the foreseeable future.