Liverpool for Europe Meeting with Prof Michael Dougan on Tuesday 24 September
Liverpool for Europe had the pleasure of welcoming an old friend and supporter, Professor Michael Dougan, to address a meeting of our members in the Quakers House in Liverpool on the evening of Tuesday 24 September. Michael is Professor of EU Law at the University of Liverpool. The meeting was particularly intended for new members (and those that had joined recently) and indeed for everyone who wished to take advantage of Prof Dougan’s unparalleled knowledge on the subject and his unerring ability to separate fact from fiction.
The format of the meeting was a kind of one-person Any Questions with the questions having been submitted beforehand from our members. Once Prof Dougan had finished answering the questions, participants at the meeting were invited to ask further questing or make their own comments. The questions (with a summary of the answers and any further discussion) were as follows:
Can the Govt bypass the Benn Act and force a no-deal Brexit?
Prof Dougan (MD) felt that Boris Johnson could not do this without inviting another intervention from the courts.
Can the EU unilaterally allow an extension to A50 if there is no effective government in the UK?
MD made it clear that any extension decision needs unanimous agreement between the EU27 and the UK Government. If there is no effective UK government, and no way (e.g.) for Parliament to instruct an appropriate official to act on behalf of the UK on the international plane, then it is difficult to see how an extension could be agreed. It certainly cannot be “imposed” by the EU27 without the UK’s positive consent.
What is the current state of play with the WA? Are we in danger of agreeing a WA but not leaving enough time for enabling legislation to be passed thus allowing Johnson not to ask for a further extension and therefore crash out? If so, how can this be stopped other than by revocation?
MD thought there was very little chance of a new or revised (legally binding) withdrawal agreement since he didn’t believe the Johnson Govt was sincere in its supposed attempts to get a deal. Its proposals on replacing the backstop with some sort of alternative measures were completely unrealistic and would never be acceptable to the EU. MD pointed out that there was nowhere on the planet where two neighbouring countries with different customs and trading arrangements didn’t have a hard border between them. The amount of legislation required in the unlikely event of a deal between the UK and EU would take a minimum of several weeks to get through all its stages in Parliament, as well as the EU, making the October 31 deadline even more redundant and meaningless. If the Govt were really serious about getting a deal, they would themselves require an extension.
How can we explain the vital importance of Parliament and the rule of law to the person in the street who says “just get over it”?
MD believes we can divide the population into three roughly equal parts: those that support the basic tenets and the institutions of liberal democracy and the social market economy; those that don’t and who would be open to a more authoritarian regime; those in the middle who could be persuaded in either direction. MD didn’t think there was much point in engaging with the second group, consisting mainly of Brexit activists who were impervious to rational arguments or facts. We need to concentrate on those who are sympathetic to our values but may have been negatively influenced by the Brexiter propaganda. We need to give them a more positive message.
What do you think about Labour’s policy of renegotiating a new Brexit deal in 3 months?
According to MD it could be done in a week if all that was required was a tweak or partial rewrite of the Political Declaration. However, MD, till recently a life-long Labour voter, was critical about the Labour leadership’s position on Brexit. The idea that the UK could have a Customs Union arrangement with the EU outside of the EU but that would allow the UK co-determination in agreeing new EU trade deals was a non-starter and might well be struck out by the ECJ anyway. Equally fallacious was the idea that the UK could somehow enjoy all the benefits of Single Market membership without being in it and, e.g. having special treatment when it comes to basic rules like free movement of state aid. Indeed, MD reserved his strongest condemnation for the myths surrounding nationalisation and state aid peddled by Corbynites and Lexiters in the Labour Party.
Given your experience as a fact-checker for the BBC, do you feel that the Corporation has been less impartial in its coverage of Brexit and the People’s Vote campaign?
MD pointed out that his experience in that role was fairly limited but he was loath to criticise the BBC, a corporation he had long admired, especially since the BBC was already under attack from the hard right. However, he felt that in some respects the BBC was trying to be too impartial by giving equal weight to both sides of the argument even when facts point to one side’s arguments being much stronger. This is also evident in the Climate Change debate where frauds like Nigel Lawson are wheeled out to spout unscientific drivel in the name of impartiality and hearing both sides.