29 March 2017
London
Reporter: Mark Dugdale

UK commits to Brexit unknown


The UK has officially pulled the trigger on Article 50 and commenced the two-year negotiation process that will end in its exit from the EU.

With the activation of Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, EU legislators will now convene to decide what positions they will take on a range of issues, from the rights of EU citizens in the UK to financial services passporting.

The Article 50 letter, which was signed by UK Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday, was handed to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, at lunchtime.

Official negotiations between the European Commission and the UK’s Brexit team are expected to commence on 29 April. The process can take no more than two years, unless the European Council approves an extension.

Membership of the EU is complex, with many aspects of UK legislation intertwined with or underpinned by regulations and directives designed in Brussels.

UK ministers will have to simultaneously negotiate the terms of the exit from the EU, lobby for and begin discussions about a new trade deal with the 27 remaining member states, do the same with every other country around the world, and begin reforming its own laws.

The mooted Great Repeal Bill will preserve EU law in UK legislation in one fell swoop, although this is still subject to the parliamentary scrutiny that almost derailed the so-called Brexit bill earlier in March.

A leaked European Parliament resolution suggested no free trade deal will be forthcoming in the next two years, and that any post-Brexit transition arrangement beginning in 2019 can last no longer than three years.

In intellectual property, the UK and EU’s positions remain unclear, but there has been extensive speculation over the future of the unitary patent system.

The UK has signed the protocol on privileges and immunities of the Unified Patent Court (UPC) and committed to ratifying the UPC Agreement—one of the final steps before it can take effect and the system can be implemented, giving applicants access to a single patent enforceable across the majority of the EU through a single court system.

In February, Douglas Carswell, a staunch Brexit campaigner and member of parliament, tabled a motion against ratification of the UPC Agreement, although it was largely symbolic and has gained little momentum.

The UK government’s long awaited Brexit whitepaper suggested in February that the country will accept the supremacy of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in matters of the UPC.

Section 2.3 of the whitepaper said that the UK government will “bring an end to the jurisdiction of the CJEU in the UK”.

But it added that the UK will “continue to honour [its] international commitments and follow international law”.

This could potentially encompass the commitments the UK has to the UPC and the unitary patent system.

In January, the UK government avoided any mention of the CJEU’s role in the UPC.

An explanatory memorandum to the protocol on privileges and immunities of the UPC was submitted by UK IP minister Jo Johnson to accompany a 20 January command paper to UK Parliament ahead of ratification.

The memorandum expressly said that the “EU is not a signatory” to the UPC agreement and that the UPC forms a “separate jurisdiction to the national court systems”.

The UK voted 52 percent to 48 percent in favour of exiting the EU in June 2016, after former Primer Minister David Cameron launched the referendum to appease eurosceptic Conservative colleagues.

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