British pensioners rushing to settle in EU countries ahead of Brexit

British pensioners rushing to settle in EU countries ahead of Brexit

British pensioners and people taking early retirement are flocking to settle in European countries ahead of Brexit, amid fears this will become more difficult once freedom of movement ends.

With the clock ticking on the UK’s departure from the European Union, a company that helps those making the move to the continent said the number of enquiries it was handling each month about relocating to Spain, France and Portugal had doubled.

Blevins Franks, which offers financial advice for those moving to Europe, said it had seen overall business surge by 20 to 25 per cent following the referendum result last year.

Other companies reported similar surges from those determined to find their place in the sun before March 2019, when the UK is due to leave the 28-nation block.

Director of business development at Belvin Franks, Jason Porter, told the Guardian he was hopeful a deal will be struck that will allow Brits to carry on retiring abroad, regardless of Brexit.

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Conversations with Europe: Sue Wilson

Conversations with Europe: Sue Wilson

Sue Wilson lives in Alcossebre, Spain, with her husband and five cats. She is a part time Project Manager, hoping to retire in the near future. Since the Brexit referendum, she has become better known as the Chair of Bremain in Spain, the pro-EU campaign group with over 5000 members, which represents British citizens living in Spain who will be affected by Brexit. Sue had no interest in politics before the referendum but now devotes 50-70 hours per week to what she calls her ‘obsession’ – fighting to stop Brexit and protect the rights of British citizens living in Spain.

Sue says she is an optimist by nature and firmly believes that Brexit – ‘the worst crisis to affect the UK for decades’ – can be stopped. She says ‘it’ll be painful, damaging and expensive, but common sense must prevail in the end.’

I was keen to chat with Sue about her campaign, and her feelings about Europe more widely, so delighted she agreed to be interviewed. Look out for a feature on the Bremain in Spain campaign, coming soon.


  1. Please tell me where you are from, where you currently live and work, and what you do.

Originally from Oxford, I am 63 years old, married, & living in Alcossebre with my husband Steve & 5 cats. We have lived in Spain for 10 years, & plan to spend the rest of our lives here, Brexit permitting. I work part-time as a Project Manager, renovating houses, & Steve works part-time as an IT Trainer in the UK. We had planned to retire this summer, but with our income being reduced by almost 20% due to the devaluation of Sterling, we have postponed becoming “pensionistas” until next year. Most of my time is taken up running Bremain in Spain.


  1. Which European languages can you speak?

I speak reasonable Spanish – probably intermediate level, though I need to study more. I was studying everyday before 23rd June, but haven’t done any since the referendum!


  1. Would you describe yourself as European? Is this important to you? Is your national identity more important?

Yes, I’m proud to call myself a European. My European identity & citizenship is very important to me. It has allowed me to live & work in Spain & plan my retirement here. I would be loath to give up my British nationality (which I would need to do if I wanted to become a Spanish Citizen), but only for practical reasons e.g. what effect would that have on my UK pension & what would happen if I decided to return to UK in the future? – I would just be another unwanted European immigrant. I used to be proud to be British – not any more. What the UK is becoming makes me ashamed.


  1. When you think of the European Union, what is the first thing you think of? 

Freedom. Hard to choose one though – I also think of peace, friendship, diversity.


  1. Do you feel that living and working in the EU has made a difference to your professional career? How?

No – I gave up a successful career in the UK (in Sales Management & Training), knowing full well that living & working in Spain would mean slowing down, less responsible work & a different work/life balance. At 53, I felt it was time, & the pros far outweigh the cons. I never thought that at 63 I would end up working harder than I have ever worked in my life, & for no money!


  1. Do you feel as though the European Union is beneficial to area you work in? Can you support your answer with examples?

My work isn’t directly benefitted by the EU, but in my voluntary campaigning work for Bremain in Spain, I have become much more aware of everything that the EU does, & the professional way they do business – in stark contrast to the behaviour of the UK government. I know far more about the EU now than ever before.


  1. Does Europe inspire you professionally or personally? If so, how?

Professionally no, personally yes. The more I learn, the more I value the relationship & appreciate everything that the EU has given us.


  1. What do you think of the result of the Brexit referendum in the UK?

Over a year on, & I’m still angry, & still determined to do anything/everything in my power to stop Brexit from happening. I was heart-broken when the referendum results came in, & it took me a full 3 weeks to recover from the upset/shock/horror sufficiently to start taking action. I have never felt so strongly about anything in my life. If we fail to stop Brexit from happening, I will campaign for the rest of my life, or for as long as it takes, to get the UK back in the EU.


  1. Do you think the EU helps maintain peace?



  1. Do you feel as though you have a lot in common with people from European countries other than your own? Can you give examples?

I certainly feel more European than British after 10 years in Spain. I was fortunate to live in Oxford, London & Cambridge in the UK – all multi-cultural cities where the diversity was a positive aspect. I have more Spanish friends in Spain than English ones, & find the Spanish extremely friendly & welcoming – in fact, we feel more like family than friends. We also like to holiday in Europe too & experience different cultures & cuisines, & have visited Italy & Malta in the last 15 months.


  1. Are you involved in any campaigning activity related to the UK referendum result? If so, please tell me more about it. What would success look like for your campaign?

I’m Chair of Bremain in Spain (as mentioned earlier) – a group of 5000 Remainers, mostly based in Spain. We have 2 objectives – the first is to fight against Brexit; plan b) is to protect the rights of British citizens living in Spain. We are also 1 of 11 groups across the EU that make up British in Europe – this coalition works with EU citizens groups in the UK, like the 3Million, to protect all of our rights, & we work closely with the EU & UK governments in this regard. We take this work very seriously, & we believe it important to protect our rights whatever the outcome of Brexit. Having said that, fighting Brexit is our number one priority, & we are partnered with 2 large UK campaign groups to this end – Britain for Europe & European Movement.


Success for UK & EU citizens would be for the UK government to agree to the offer that the EU have on the table with regard to citizens rights. We had a role in writing the proposal, & the EU would have us retain almost all of our rights – the UK offer by comparison is inferior, & would have us treated as 2nd class citizens. All of these issues would go away though if we manage to stop Brexit from ever happening. If we don’t leave, none of our rights would be threatened. If we are successful, there will be parties all over the UK, & Europe, that will go on for days!


  1. How would you feel about ‘ever closer union’ or a ‘United States of Europe’?

Fine by me – in fact I would not have a problem even with joining Schengen. We have strength in numbers, & Brexit has had one positive effect on the Union – it has woken the EU up, made the 27 countries think seriously about their own membership, & brought about an even stronger bond.


  1. Do you have a favourite place in Europe? If so, where is it and why do you love it?

Impossible to single out one place (leaving aside where I live in Alcossebre) – there are many wonderful cities (Barcelona, Venice, Amsterdam), an amazing diversity of scenery (Spain, Croatia, Greece), so many different cultures. I’d have to say Europe itself – each country has so much to offer & is so different from the next one. I hope one day to visit them all.


  1. Which European national stereotypes are true, in your experience?

As much as any of them are true, then I guess there is some truth to all of them, as much as there are elements that are false too – that includes the Brits too! However, I hope I never fall into the trap of associating a stereotype with an individual – even if others would say that Brits, for example, are overly polite, doesn’t mean they all are!


  1. Where is the best place in Europe to drink coffee? What would you order?

Haven’t a clue! Not a coffee drinker.


  1. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Europe today?

The refugee crisis – innocent people are dying, whilst searching for a better life. Not enough is being done to help them, or to resolve the issues that force them to leave their homes in the first place.


  1. Name a place in Europe you have not visited, but would like to. Why?

Brussels & Luxembourg – I would love to get close to European politics in action, having learnt so much about it over the last year.


  1. What do you think is the most significant moment in European history? Why?

History was never my strong suit, & I’ve always been one to look forward rather than backward. How far back do you go? Treaty signings? World wars? I know there have been many significant moments/events, though I’ve only really become aware of the significance of many since the referendum. I would have to say, speaking personally, it would be 23rd June 2016 – that day changed my life, & I’m still feeling the effects, & likely to for a long time.


  1. Do you think the UK will leave the EU in 2019? 

No, & I hope that’s not just wishful thinking. I believe it to be next to impossible in terms of complexity, & I suspect that a transitional deal would be on the cards. If that were to happen, then we would barely notice any difference except it would cost more & UK would lose any say, so less control rather than more. At some point surely the question would be asked, if this is the deal, & it’s worse than what we had before, then what is the point?

I also think that since the election, it is noticeable how often the media now say “if” rather than “when” Brexit happens. There are even journalists now openly writing about the possibility that Brexit may not happen – that would have been unthinkable before the election. We have a long way to go, & it won’t be pretty & it won’t be cheap, but there is every reason to be hopeful that the UK will come to its senses, MPs will start listening to the public change of mood, & that they will act in the best interest of the country.


  1. Are you hopeful for the future of Europe?

Yes – it is stronger than ever, pulling together, & successful. Long may it continue.

Mass Lobby to UK Parliament 13 September 2017

Mass Lobby to UK Parliament 13 September 2017

British in Europe and the3million are inviting you to a mass lobby of Parliament on Wednesday 13 September 2017, asking MPs to fully protect our rights after Brexit so that we can stay in the countries we love. We are working together with our partners Another Europe is Possible, European Alternatives, Migrants Rights Network and UNISON.


What is a mass lobby?

A mass lobby is when a large number of people contact their MPs and members of the Lords in advance and arrange to meet with them at Parliament all on the same day. Mass lobbies are usually organised by campaign groups who arrange for them to coincide with a public rally or demonstration in London.

​Our September lobby is a day where EU citizens and their British family and friends, along with UK voters living in other EU countries, will arrange to meet with their MP in Parliament to raise their concerns about their future rights and tell their own story. It will be a big, high-profile event where there will also be other campaign activities going on, speakers, etc etc, and it will attract a lot of press attention. The timing is bang on – between two rounds of citizens’ rights negotiations and just a month before the crucial ‘has enough progress been made’ decision by the European Council.

The five ‘asks’:

We are not asking for special treatment – just that the rules of the game are not changed after the match has started. Here is what we are asking for:

  • Keep the rights we already have as EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU, so that we can continue to live our lives as before the Brexit vote.
  • Guarantee these rights for life under the ECJ, so we have certainty that rules will not change in the future.
  • Support ring-fencing an agreement on citizens’ rights from the rest of the UK/EU negotiations, so our lives are not used as a bargaining chip, and we can have peace of mind even if there is no overall deal.
  • Introduce a free, easy to use registration process for EU citizens in the UK, so we can effectively claim our rights.
  • British citizens in the EU keep their free movement rights, and the right to study in the UK paying the same fees and with access to the same loans as someone living in Britain.


How to take part:

There are two ways to take part in the mass lobby on 13 September 2017:

Attend in person
If you’re able to travel to London, you can join the many hundreds of other UK and EU citizens at Westminster. You’ll need to register (essential, as you’ll be right inside the House of Commons), then you’ll receive details of how to contact your MP to ask them to meet you at the Houses of Parliament on the afternoon of the lobby. After the lobby, there will be a rally with various speakers.

Participate in the e-lobby
If you can’t travel to London, you can still take part in the mass lobby. Running alongside the lobby on the ground will be a social media e-lobby. This will run in various ways: you’ll be able to talk to your MP via Twitter (if you don’t use Twitter yourself a member of the e-lobby team will do this on your behalf); you’ll also be paired with someone attending the lobby in person who has the same MP as you, and your ‘lobby twin’ will take your concerns to your shared MP as well as their own. We’re hoping to broadcast welcome and rally speeches live too – details to be confirmed and will be updated here.


Programme for the day

​We are meeting at the Emmanuel Centre in Marsham Street, Westminster SW1P 3DW, from 12 noon.
12pm Emmanuel Centre opens to lobbyists
1pm Welcome session
2pm Lobby starts – we go over to Parliament in groups
5pm Lobby ends – rally starts (location TBC)
7.30pm Rally ends

How to register:

You need to register whether you plan to attend the lobby in London or take part in the e-lobby.

Registration is free – you will be offered the chance to make a donation but it’s not compulsory. Once you’ve registered, you’ll receive confirmation of your registration, and then a further email which will tell you how to contact your MP.

Please register here: ​



For Twitter users:

If you use Twitter, please follow the special Twitter account that has been set up for the mass lobby: Anyone can read the Tweets here whether or not you have a Twitter account.

We’d like the help of all Twitter users in publicising the lobby; please use the hashtag #CitizensLobby2017 as much as you can, and engage in and retweet our posts so that we can get as wide a coverage as possible. If you’d like to join the group that is running the e-lobby, contact me (Kalba) on The e-lobby group meets and organises itself primarily as a closed Facebook group.​



Check out the mass lobby FAQ page. If your question isn’t yet answered, pop over to the British in Europe Facebook group and ask there.
Stop Brexit March Manchester – 1st October 2017

Stop Brexit March Manchester – 1st October 2017

Join us on the first of October in Manchester as we march on the Conservative Party Conference to demand that Brexit is stopped!

“Marching there on the first day of the Conference offers the opportunity for our voices to be actually heard by the party members as they arrive at the Convention Centre.”

Conference is where the party decides its policies, and politicians make new alliances.
Manchester is where the party will have to face up the reality of Brexit.
Manchester is where the power of the Brexit Bulldogs must stop.
Manchester is where Brexit must be stopped.

As Guy Verhofstadt said, “Brexit is all about a cat fight in the Tory party that got out of hand“, it is time that we, the people, tell the Tories to end this madness and put the interests of the country first.”

#StopBrexit #StopBrexitMarch #StopBrexitinManchester

Join the Autumn of Dissent #StopBrexit

Make no mistake: this is a Stop Brexit demonstration!

The Stop Brexit March is a national protest, supported by A C Grayling and Alastair Campbell. It brings people together from across the country on Sunday 1 October 2017 in a protest at the Conservative Party Conference: to demand Stop Brexit.

Marching in Manchester on the first day of the Tory party conference offers the opportunity for our voices to be actually heard by Theresa May and her colleagues in the Convention Centre.

We shall be marching along the Oxford Road to the Convention Centre where the Conservative Party Conference will be in full session.

It’s essential that the Conservative Party and the rest of the world know that we want to Stop Brexit. So please come dressed in blue, with yellow accessories (if you have any), and your EU flags, banners and placards.

Please visit the #StopBrexit National March website for full details

We are working with full approval from Greater Manchester Police. It would really help us to help them if we have a good idea of how many people we are expecting, so please head on over to our EventBrite page  to register your interest, or sign up through our Facebook event page. There’s no cost for tickets, we just need to know how many people we are expecting.



Manchester For Europe and North West For Europe will be hosting a street party on Sunday 1st October in St Ann’s Square Manchester.

The theme will be a celebration of the EU in general and its achievements with a reinforcement of our message that we believe the UK is better off as a full member of the EU.
Events details HERE

British in Europe & the3million – Response to Round 2

British in Europe & the3million – Response to Round 2

British in Europe and the3million have written to DExEU, the Home Office, the EU Commission and Parliament with their comments on Round 2 of the negotiations on citizens’ rights, urging them to take them into account in future rounds.

The main concerns expressed are:

  • The continued failure of both sides, but particularly the UK, to recognise that we have acquired rights which cannot be taken away so that we cannot be asked to “apply” for a “grant” of something less.
  • The EU’s apparent U-turn on accepting that those of us who have exercised the right of free movement by moving to an EU27 country should continue to have that right and be free to live, work etc in other EU27 countries.
  • The UK’s attempt to defuse criticism of its proposal to make EU citizens with a right of permanent residence apply for a grant of “settled status” under UK immigration rules. They say that settled status will be interpreted according to EU rules on permanent residence.  But the result will be an unclear mish-mash of two incompatible systems with the only predictable result being years of uncertainty.  We don’t know how much of the highly restrictive UK immigration rules they want to keep for those from the EU but, for example, the UK has recently all but abolished the right of appeal in immigration cases,  an abolition which until Brexit does not apply to EEA citizens.
  • The determination by both sides to keep the rule that you lose a right of permanent residence if you leave your residence for 2 years. If we all have rights of free movement then this does not create a hardship because if you leave your residence for more than 2 years you have a right to return and re-acquire permanent residence rights after 5.  If freedom of movement is removed, however, then you lose that right.  Given that many people have good reasons to leave for more than 2 years (think students, think those who move back ‘home’ to look after an ageing relative), this can cause real hardship.  The UK is proposing some flexibility here, but if the “flexibility” it shows in the comparable case of non-EU citizens is anything to go by, this will be so limited as to be of little real assistance.
  • The EU’s failure to concede voting rights in local elections, though this may just be a bureaucratic issue of whether this is appropriate for the Article 50 agreement.
  • The continued failure to discuss, let alone agree, ring-fencing of any agreement which is made on citizens’ rights.

The British in Europe/the3million response document deals with a number of other issues of detail raised in round 2, which those who want to can read if they follow the link below. However it does not go over all the same old ground which we have covered in earlier official publications, so there may well be issues which are important to you which are not mentioned:  we will deal with them as they come up (or not) in subsequent rounds of the negotiation.

What has been reassuring is that, as a result of the extensive lobbying we have done, British in Europe and the3million are now being consulted by officials at a very high level on both sides of the Channel.  We were debriefed on round 2 almost immediately after the official press conference and invited to have a continuing dialogue with the negotiating teams so that the views of those most directly affected, the citizens whose rights are in issue, are taken into account.


The Full Response Document can be read HERE

Project Fear to Project Reality – Prof Michael Dougan

Project Fear to Project Reality – Prof Michael Dougan

EU law expert, Professor Michael Dougan offers his assessment one year on from the EU referendum which resulted in a narrow majority in favour of Brexit.

Prof Dougan, whose video criticising the campaign’s “dishonesty on an industrial scale” in the weeks before the vote clocked up millions of views, looks back at his predictions and suggests that those who want to see the UK leave the EU are now facing “the accountability of reality”.

He says Brexiteers are in a “state of almost total denial” as “project fear becomes project reality”.

Watch the video here, and find a full transcript of Prof Dougan’s analysis below.


It’s just over a year since the Government endorsed the narrow victory of the Leave alliance in the 2016 referendum on UK membership of the EU.

Now that events have finally begun to move, there is an enormous amount of work for constitutional lawyers, like me, to get our teeth into.  Obviously, myself and my colleagues are now engaged in detailed analysis of developments such as the ongoing withdrawal negotiations and the so-called Repeal Bill.  But a lot of people have been asking for a more general review, simply of where things have got to “one year on”.

For those purposes, I went back to a lecture I gave in Liverpool last June – only a matter of days before the referendum itself – in which I described the Leave campaign as being guilty of dishonesty on an industrial scale.  But just as importantly, in that lecture, I also identified what any competent constitutional lawyer could have safely foreseen as the likely consequences of a Leave victory in the referendum.

Such concerns were dismissed by Leave campaigners as a lawyer’s version of “Project Fear”.  But what is striking is how things are unfolding pretty much as expected.

In particular: I made 4 sets of predictions: two relating to the internal challenges that would face the UK; and two related to the external tasks that we would have to confront.

The first prediction was that a vote to leave would trigger a comprehensive review of the entire legal system, which would be needed to prepare the UK for withdrawal: after all, for over 40 years, UK law has evolved under the influence of and in combination with EU law.  The impact of EU law may well vary from sector to sector, but such is the nature of EU membership that trying to divide “national law” from “European law” is more a task for philosophers than for lawyers or civil servants.

Moreover: the sheer scale and complexity of that review would inevitably entail a massive delegation of power from parliament to the government: it was simply impossible to imagine how such a vast job could be done by parliament itself.

And more generally: leaving the EU would also remove the regulatory safety nets provided by EU law, that prevent any government minded to do so from deregulating basic protections for workers and the environment and consumers etc.

So: Project Fear or Project Reality?

The Government has now published both a White Paper and a draft legislative text on the so-called Repeal Bill.  It recognises the urgent need to prepare the UK legal system for withdrawal, which would otherwise cause tremendous uncertainty and dislocation.  For that purpose: the Government proposes to incorporate all existing EU law directly into the UK legal system, so as to minimise disruption and ensure continuity.  But the Government also recognises that a lot of EU law doesn’t actually make much sense if you’re no longer a Member State: for example, where EU law seeks to solve cross-border problems by coordinating the activities of different national authorities.

And so the Government agrees: the UK needs to carry out a comprehensive review of the entire legal system, just to prepare the UK for withdrawal; and that review will need to adapt and in many cases replace existing EU rules with some workable UK alternative.  That job cannot realistically be done by Parliament alone – so the Government is demanding wide-ranging and far-reaching powers for itself to change the existing law.  Make no mistake: not only does this legislation raise all sorts of more detailed technical questions, for example, about which parts of EU law the Government proposes to incorporate and which to reject.  It also poses very serious questions about our constitutional fundamentals – executive scrutiny, democracy and legitimacy.

In any case: in some sectors, even the Government recognises that the scale of the changes will be so extreme that Parliament itself will need to work through a major programme of primary legislation, aimed at rewriting the regulatory regimes applicable to whole fields of our economy and society.  The Queens Speech from June 2017 lists several such fields: e.g. customs, agriculture, fisheries, immigration, and trade.  Only trifling matters, obviously.

The amount of time and resource that will be spent just on preventing the country experiencing regulatory and administrative malfunction is astounding.  But in the meantime: we should pay careful attention to the gathering “anti-red tape” campaigns – being promoting by the likes of the Daily Telegraph – which seek to portray withdrawal as some “once in a lifetime opportunity” to sweep away any number of EU-derived rights and obligations.  To them, of course, “red tape” means our rights as workers and consumers, or the regulatory standards intended to protect the environment or our broader safety and security as citizens.  And don’t forget: short term promises in party manifestos to “protect workers rights” count for very little – leaving the EU is about imposing a long term, structural change in our social contract with public power.

That all sounds like Project Reality to me.

Our 2nd prediction was that a vote to leave could lead to radical changes in the constitutional structure of the UK.  For example: it could increase the likelihood of a second referendum on Scottish independence.  And it could create serious problems for Northern Ireland, not least through a hardening of the border with the Republic.

Project Fear or Project Reality?

Before the general election, the Scottish Government, with the support of the Scottish Parliament, formally requested permission to hold a second independence referendum.  Since the election, the First Minister has postponed plans for holding a second referendum, at least until the nature of any UK-EU deal becomes clearer.  But in the meantime: the devolved administrations continue to lament an almost complete lack of serious engagement with their concerns by the Government in London.  Whatever happens in due course: the political damage done to relations between Edinburgh and Westminster is very serious.

And the Repeal Bill may well only make the tensions worse: although the Government insists that it expects withdrawal from the EU to lead (over some unidentified timescale) to greater powers for the devolved administrations, it has laid down only very vague criteria, aimed primarily at justifying the centralisation of power in London – such as preserving the UK single market and enabling the UK to enter into international trade agreements.  There is little sign of any countervailing constitutional mechanisms – such as a domestic equivalent of the principle of subsidiarity – to protect the interests of the devolved regions.

As for Northern Ireland: there is now at least broad consensus among responsible actors that this is the region of the UK that stands to be most damaged by withdrawal.  The border problems in particular are very real – especially in the field of customs; indeed, they are now considered top of the agenda for negotiations with the EU.  And political tensions have not been helped by the minority Conservative Government’s deal with the hard right DUP – a deal which, even on a generous interpretation, devalues the “honest broker” principle which is meant to facilitate the smooth operation of the Good Friday settlement.

Again: that all sounds like Project Reality to me.

Our 3rd prediction concerned relations with the EU.  In particular, we suggested that there would be negotiations on an agreement dealing with the mechanics of withdrawal (e.g. migrant rights); then separately, the possibility of a framework agreement on future relations (particularly in the field of trade).  But the latter agreement could only be concluded after we had already left the EU and was likely to take far longer than two years to finalise.  In the meantime: we might be forced to trade under the minimalist rules of the WTO – a scenario which every credible commentator regards as deeply unsatisfactory if not deeply damaging.

Project Fear or Project Reality?

What amazes me here, is how many Leave campaigners – within Government as well as outside it – are still living in a state of almost total denial about what is happening.

As viewers will know from our previous video in May 2017 – assessing the PM’s decision to call a general election – the UK’s negotiating position was seriously flawed from the outset, by the Government’s rather fantastical demand that all negotiations with the EU – on the mechanics of withdrawal, on a broad and ambitious future relationship, and on appropriate transitional arrangements – all of it should be done and dusted within a timescale of about 18 months.

By contrast, the EU’s consistent approach was always both more legally robust and more practically realistic: first, we sort out the mechanics of withdrawal; then, given sufficient progress, we can start preliminary and preparatory discussions about the future; but that future relationship can only be progressed after the UK has already left – and it is likely to take a lot longer to conclude.

David Davies had promised to make this the “row of the summer”.  But of course, now that negotiations are actually underway, the inevitable has happened: the EU position is simply being imposed upon the UK –like it or not.  So much for “taking back control”.

So far, the negotiations, just on the mechanics of withdrawal, have already thrown up some obvious points of tension.  For example: despite the PM’s rhetoric about guaranteeing citizens’ rights, and not using them as bargaining chips, the UK baffled many of the other Member States by refusing to match (by quite some considerable distance) the EU’s existing offer of a full and reciprocal safeguard for the existing rights of all current migrants.  Meanwhile, Tory Europhobes continue their strategy of seeking to whip up tabloid hysteria at any prospect of a financial settlement of the UK’s rights and liabilities – no doubt having identified this as their best chance to sabotage the chances of securing any withdrawal deal at all.  Though to be fair, the Government isn’t doing too bad a job of that for itself: just look at their frankly irrational hatred of the European Court of Justice – as distorted and dishonest as anything else in the Leave campaign – which is nevertheless effectively dictating much of the UK’s future relations with the EU.

If the current negotiations on the mechanics of withdrawal are already at risk of getting bogged down, if not derailed, then any future negotiations towards a framework agreement, covering issues such as trade, security and defence, remain at such a level of sketchiness that they could qualify as work of abstract art.  On virtually every single major issue one would expect to address in any significant trade or cooperation agreement, when it comes to the UK’s vision and preferences, we know almost nothing.

For now, the Government is sticking to its White Paper from February 2017.  Which means we will be leaving the EU customs union.  Instead, we want a special relationship with the customs union – it’s just that we can’t say yet what that might mean.  And we will be leaving Single Market (even as members of the European Economic Area).  Instead, we want a special relationship with the single market – it’s just that we can’t say yet what that might mean.  All we do know is: the Government doesn’t want the free movement of natural persons; and rejects the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice.  They show almost no awareness of the price to be paid for those “red lines”.  But that’s almost irrelevant – since we don’t currently have any credible position on any other matter either.  And let’s not pretend that the attitude of the Labour Party in opposition is much better: it isn’t.

This almost complete lack of detail from Britain’s political leaders is all the more striking, when one bears in mind several crucially important contextual factors:

–   First, the UK cannot simply wish away the inherent problems of international trade; especially the challenge of tackling non-tariff (regulatory) barriers to cross border trade in goods and services.  Leading Leave campaigners and indeed Government ministers seem oblivious to the real difficulties in securing better trade terms between developed economies.  And particularly when it comes to provision of services, the UK will be seeking an entirely novel deal, with no clear international precedents.

–   Secondly, the UK is not seeking to improve trading conditions with the EU; it is seeking to minimise the mutual loss of market access.  In less than 2 years’ time, the regulatory conditions for UK companies doing business across Europe (and vice versa) are set to become substantially less favourable than they are now – actively creating a vast array of barriers to trade, which (at best) will increase costs and (at worst) will seal off markets, either in law or in fact.

–   Thirdly, and as the European Council has repeatedly affirmed: no relationship, no matter how close, can offer the same benefits as EU membership.  If the UK wants privileged access to the Single Market, it has to sign up to the EU’s expectations on regulatory standards and enforcement – and not just now, but into the future as well.  The EU will insist on a level playing field, e.g. in fields such as competition and state aid.  It will safeguard against unfair competitive advantages, e.g. as regards tax, social and environmental dumping.  And the UK will pay for such privileges – just like everyone else has to.

Project Fear?  Actually, it all sounds like Project Reality to me.

Our 4th and final set of predictions was that, when it comes to relations with the rest of the world, we would face a series of challenges: 1) the loss of our existing trade agreements (dozens of them) as already negotiated by the EU; 2) the need urgently to build capacity in the highly specialist and complex field of international trade negotiations and representation; 3) the likelihood that our bargaining power on the international scene will prove to be significantly more limited than it is as part of the Single Market; and 4) the risk that other countries would expect clarity about our domestic and regional trade position before entering advanced talks on new trade deals.

To be fair, it is still a little too early to tell just yet, exactly how this prediction will pan out.  But perhaps we have enough little signs already to know the general direction of travel.

E.g. we know that the EU will indeed regard us as being excluded, upon withdrawal, from existing deals negotiated by the EU for the benefit of its Member States.

E.g. several countries have expressed their interest in a future trade deal with the UK in principle; but in practice, they intend to prioritise their own economic relations with the EU and (by the way) would prefer us to clarify our position first please.

By contrast, the Government treats every random statement about some great, very powerful, very quick trade deal, uttered from the mouth or keyboard of the terrifyingly unstable President Trump, as if it were gospel – conveniently forgetting that Trump has been absolutely consistent about just one aspect of US international relations: America First.

Indeed, the contrast between the Government’s haughty arrogance towards the EU and its obsequious desperation towards America hardly bodes well for our negotiating skill and credibility.  Especially against the worrying background of a Government which has repeatedly threatened, that the reality of “Global Britain” could mean competing on world markets as some sort of low tax, low regulation – and with it low productivity, low public services – sweatshop economy.  Let’s hope that the so-called left wing leavers feel proud of helping sweep a hard right movement to power and giving it the constitutional leeway it needs to realise its hard right objectives.

The basic reality is that, whatever the delusions of the leave campaigners, we are now firmly on course to discover that even we – the British – are not exempt from two principles that are simply axiomatic to international trade relations.

First, the ambition of an international trade agreement is conditioned primarily by the willingness of the parties to agree ambitious regulatory frameworks and sophisticated institutional arrangements, that will help promote mutual trust between their respective political, administrative and judicial authorities.  The more ambitious the deal, the more extensive the obligations, and the more extensive the obligations, the more your theoretical national autonomy is constrained in practice.

Secondly, in international trade, size matters: the bigger players dictate the rules of the game.  They do so at the global level: the key international organisations which develop the rules of the world economy are (like it or not) dominated by the interests of the US and the EU, increasingly China.  The same is true at the bilateral level: the EU determines the terms on which smaller economies can better access its market; if those smaller countries are not willing to pay the price, they don’t get the better access.

So: looking back, one year on, it seems that events are unfolding in a way that was entirely predictable and indeed actively predicted.

One of the key roles of a constitutional lawyer is to help ensure that those who exercise (or who seek to exercise) public power are held accountable for their actions.  In the context of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, you might think that that job has in some respects been made easier.  After all, Leave campaigners are in the process of becoming subject to a form of accountability they have never really had to experience before: the accountability of reality.  The time has come when their fantasies have to find solutions to real problems; they have to negotiate with people who haven’t been conned into sharing their distorted worldview; they have to address challenges which they denied would ever even materialise.

But how will they respond?  By welcoming the scrutiny?  By admitting their mistakes?  By apologising for their reckless risktaking?  Of course.  They’ll ignore, they’ll deny, they’ll blame everyone else except themselves – the internal saboteurs and the spiteful foreigners.  And it’s that what actually makes the challenge of accountability more difficult and yet also more important: our job is to help ensure that Leave campaigners are held responsible for the consequences of their own choices and actions, judged against their own promises and denials.

We’ll be back soon from Liverpool, with more detailed analysis of some of the key ongoing developments.  In the meantime, have a good summer.


Disclosure statement:

Professor Dougan is an employee of the University of Liverpool.  He does not work for, undertake paid consultancy for, or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article/post.

Award of Jean Monnet Chair – Professor Michael Dougan:
“In 2006, the University of Liverpool was awarded a Jean Monnet Chair – a form of EU grant – consisting of €36,000. Under the terms of the grant, part of the money was spent on a major academic conference, the outputs from which were published by the usual process of international peer review. The remaining funds were spent on general teaching costs. The Jean Monnet award itself has long since been closed. However, for so long as I remain an employee of the University of Liverpool, I am entitled to continue referring to the 2006 award among my own professional distinctions. I am very happy and proud to do so, since such awards carry considerable prestige within my academic discipline.”