Even regional EU parliaments may have power to sink post-Brexit trade deal
Eleanor Sharpston, the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) advocate general, issued a legal opinion ruling that an EU free trade deal with Singapore currently in the works must be agreed by all member states.
The decision means a post-Brexit deal for the UK may have to go through the same process – and be agreed on by at least 38 national and regional parliaments, including the 27 national parliaments, at least five regional and linguistic parliaments in Belgium, and at least five upper chambers.
Sharpston found that member states’ approval will be needed in the areas of air and maritime transport, labor and environmental standards, social policy, some aspects of intellectual property rights and dispute settlement.
The intervention of a parliament could delay a trade deal or even stop it entirely. Earlier this year, an EU-Canada trade deal nearly collapsed following seven years of negotiations after the Walloon region of Belgium threatened to veto it.
Brexit secretary David Davis has previously said he believes that the UK’s Brexit deal should be “negotiable” within an 18-month period.
The ECJ said: “While the advocate general notes that difficulties may arise from a ratification process involving all of the member states alongside the EU, she considers that that cannot affect the question of who has competence to conclude the agreement.”
Catherine Barnard, a professor of European Union law at the University of Cambridge, told the Telegraph: “This will make Britain’s trade deal hugely more difficult and will make the process hugely longer, because they will have to keep an eye not only on what the EU wants but also what all the national capitals and even the regional parliaments want.
“It’s grossly inconvenient for the UK, which is faced with exactly the same as what happened with the Canadian agreement and the Walloons.
“The Walloons were eventually leant on to change their minds, but that may not be so easy with the UK deal as it will be more contentious because it is likely to be more far-reaching, covering issues like financial services.”
Sharpston's decision does not bind the ECJ, although the court tends to follow the lead of its top judges in the majority of cases.
A verdict by the Luxembourg court will stand as key jurisprudence for future EU trade deals.