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Britain outlines plans to break free of European Court after Brexit

  • Britain will outline its plans Wednesday to escape the "direct jurisdiction" of the European Court of Justice after Brexit
  • The U.K. government will try to show little compromise in the politically sensitive document
  • Opposition lawmakers say that Prime Minister May has crossed her own "red line" on taking back control by accepting that the court would have influence over British law
British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at the EU Council headquarters ahead of a European Council meeting on June 22, 2017 in Brussels, Belgium.
Leon Neal | Getty Images
British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at the EU Council headquarters ahead of a European Council meeting on June 22, 2017 in Brussels, Belgium.

Britain will outline its plans on Wednesday to escape the "direct jurisdiction" of the European Court of Justice after Brexit, one of Prime Minister Theresa May's main aims in talks to unravel 40 years of EU membership.

The plans will be laid out in one of the most politically sensitive documents Britain has published this month as it attempts to nudge negotiations with the European Union forward.

The government will try to show little compromise in what it calls a paper to "reinforce the message that after Brexit, the UK will take back control of its laws".

But in qualifying her language by using the word "direct" before jurisdiction, opposition lawmakers said May had crossed her own "red line" on taking back control, by accepting the court would have influence over British law.

Many pro-Brexit lawmakers in May's governing Conservative Party say the European court, or ECJ, has slowly sucked power from Britain's courts and parliament. But for the EU, the Luxembourg-based court is the ultimate arbiter of EU law and must protect its citizens, even those living in Britain.

"We have long been clear that in leaving the EU we will bring an end to the direct jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the UK," a government source said.

"This paper takes the next steps as we prepare to engage constructively to negotiate our approach to this," the source said, referring to the fourth paper Britain has released this week to try to move the negotiations beyond discussion of a divorce settlement and on to future ties.

Dominic Raab, a Brexit campaigner who is now minister for courts and justice, said Britain would most likely suggest Britain and the EU could appoint arbitrators and possibly agree a third party to deal with "bones of contention" in future ties.

"That's one possible alternative, but I think it's the most likely," he told BBC Radio Four, denying the use of the word "direct" signalled a shift in position. Opposition lawmakers said those accusations showed the weakness of May, who lost her party's majority in an ill-judged election two months ago.

"The repeated reference to ending the 'direct jurisdiction' of the ECJ is potentially significant. This appears to contradict the red line laid out ... which stated there could be no future role of the ECJ and that all laws will be interpreted by judges in this country," said Keir Starmer, Brexit spokesman for the opposition Labour Party.

All but halted

The ECJ issue has all but halted debate on guaranteeing the rights of expatriates. A joint status document, published last month, comparing the EU and British positions shows that talks on those rights have come unstuck because of a dispute over the role of the ECJ.

In Britain's paper on the ECJ, the government source said, May's government would try to show "examples of existing ways of resolving disputes in international agreements" without the ECJ having direct jurisdiction, and it would be unprecedented if the court had jurisdiction over a non-member.

The "future partnership paper" on judicial and political dispute resolution is part of Britain's strategy to try to force the EU into discussing future ties alongside discussion of the divorce.

But the EU says it must see "sufficient progress" in the first stage in talks - on the rights of expatriates, Britain's border with EU member Ireland and a financial settlement - before moving on.

"We need to talk about the future very soon," another British source said, echoing comments from all sides that the "clock is ticking".

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