In her Conservative Party conference speech last year, Theresa May rejected "supranational institutions that can override national parliaments and courts." She was even more explicit in her Lancaster House speech setting out the Government's Brexit position, back in January: "We will take back control of our laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain", she said. Finishing the role of the ECJ in Britain was, supposedly, a central, water-tight guarantee at the heart of the Government's Brexit plan. After the publication today of their position paper on disputes resolution, this guarantee is leaking like a sieve.
The paper was vague, but its leitmotif was the Government's climbdown on the role of the ECJ. They float future models for the UK, such as the EFTA Court and the EU-Moldova Agreement, which are subordinate to the ECJ in more or less all cases. They have admitted that all existing ECJ case law will remain in place, and even that the UK will need to pay close heed to future ECJ judgements in order to avoid regulatory divergence. And yesterday, in their paper on civil judicial cooperation, the Government pledged to continue to participate in the Lugano Convention, which states that courts from contracting parties to the Convention should take into consideration judgements made by the European Court of Justice.
In the last couple of days, the Government has made a slight but vitally important change to its rhetoric. Instead of ending the jurisdiction of the ECJ, as Theresa May promised in her Lancaster House speech, they now talk about ending its "direct" jurisdiction. This is classic obfuscation which should fool nobody; a distinction without a difference. All the models listed in the government's paper give the ECJ immense control over countries that are not EU members. Whether the ECJ's jurisdiction is direct or indirect, the implication is clear - Brexit will not mean taking back control of our laws in any meaningful way.
The Government's red line on Euro-judges has been emphasised so repeatedly it is in danger of developing its own logic. We should remember the consequences of the Government's decision to impose this negotiating position on itself. They argue that Britain must pull out of the Single Market solely in order to "liberate" ourselves from the influence of the ECJ. But these papers reveal, through a mountain of fudge and equivocation, that the ECJ will continue to have influence over our country whether we are in the Single Market or not. The key question is: why is the Government deliberately damaging our economy, by giving up membership of the Single Market which is the best option to protect British jobs, trade and growth, when doing so will not bring back control of our laws in the way they promised? As the Open Britain group of which I am a member is campaigning for, we should remain in the Single Market after Brexit.
You won't find the answer in any speech by the Prime Minister. The truth is she, like David Cameron before her, is prioritising her own job instead of the the jobs of millions of British people, and trying to avoid a Tory party split. Her main priority is surviving her party conference with her Cabinet and backbenchers in open warfare over the EU. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on Britain's timetable for withdrawal, triggered, at the insistence of her party's "Bluekip" wing, just before her disastrous general election which swallowed four precious months of negotiation time.
The Prime Minister is steering Britain towards the worst of all worlds - a third rate trading arrangement which will damage our economy while not ending in any meaningful way the power of European judges over Britain. The Government's top priority should be protecting jobs and our trade with Europe. The only sensible solution now is to continue our membership of the Single Market after we leave the European Union. The Prime Minister needs to start doing the best thing for Britain, rather than the best thing for her party.