How can universities tackle the challenges and exploit the opportunities of Brexit?

Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law, University of Bristol Law School

Brexit will present the UK with a vast number of political, economic, social, and legal challenges and opportunities in the months and years ahead. In this short piece, Professor Phil Syrpis reflects on the steps taken within the University of Bristol to begin to tackle the challenges and exploit the opportunities.

From the time that it became clear, on the morning of Friday 24 June 2016, that the UK had voted to leave the EU, academics have been absorbing, reacting to, and in some cases seeking to shape, the political agenda. Events have been occurring at a dizzying pace. David Cameron was swiftly replaced by Theresa May; Parliament, after Gina Miller’s Supreme Court victory, voted to trigger Article 50 and begin the process of exiting the EU; White Papers and Negotiating Guidelines were issued; and we are now set for a General Election on 8 June, which looks set to be dominated by Brexit (that’s one of the very few predictions I feel able to make). Continue reading

“Buy Brexit”? Using “cultural fit” as evaluation criteria breaches EU and UK public procurement law

Dr Albert Sanchez Graells, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol Law School

On March 1, 2017, The Guardian  reported that the UK’s Department for International Trade had tendered contracts where they expected that tech companies should have the right ‘cultural fit’ if they wanted to be hired. This was interpreted in the news report as a clear mechanism whereby “Firms bidding for government contracts [were] asked if they back Brexit“. It is indeed a worrying requirement due to the clear risk of unfettered discretion and ensuing discrimination that such ‘cultural fit’ requirement creates. In my opinion, the requirement runs contrary to both EU and UK public procurement rules (and this was later echoed by the follow-up coverage story by The Guardian as well: “Trade department may have broken EU rules with ‘pro-Brexit’ contract criteria”).

In this post, I develop the reasons for the assessment that such a ‘Buy Brexit’ requirement is illegal (which I previously published in my personal blog and the specialised EU Law Analysis blog). I will try to keep this post as jargon free as possible and limit the technical details of my legal assessment as much as possible. However, this is a rather technical area of economic law, so some technicalities will be unavoidable. Continue reading

Shaping the corporate landscape: it’s high time for corporate reform

Nina Boeger, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol

Nina Boeger, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol

Mistrust in corporate governance and multi-national companies has rarely run deeper than today. In extreme cases of misconduct, corporate bosses might be called in to answer questions about their own exploitative conduct vis-a-vis their businesses, as we have seen recently in the public interrogation of Sir Phillip Green, former “owner” of the now defunct BHS.

But generally, it has become ever clearer that while corporations carry responsibility for many of our current global problems, from rising social inequality to looming ecological disaster, they are rarely held fully accountable for their misdemeanours and recklessness.

Our corporate governance system has so far failed to impose effective limits on the rent-seeking of financial investors and the excess of corporate managers at the expense of the wider workforce and the exploitation of our communities and the environment. Instead, profit maximisation for shareholders, and handsome remuneration packages for company directors even when they manage their company against the long-term interests of employees, consumers and the wider communities that businesses are meant to serve, continue to dominate the order of the day.

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The law and politics of withdrawal from the EU

On Thursday June 23, the people had their say. Over 17 million Britons voted to leave the EU. The outcome was clear, and should be respected.

Nevertheless, the future is shrouded in uncertainty. Months of campaigning failed to produce good answers to what have become urgent questions. The uncertainty relates both to the mechanism of withdrawal, and to the terms of any withdrawal agreement and future trade agreement with the EU.  As no Member State has ever withdrawn from the EU, there are no relevant precedents. This is uncharted territory; these are interesting times.

The law – Article 50 TEU

Article 50 TEU, introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon, provides the mechanism for withdrawal from the EU.

It makes several things clear. A Member State may decide to withdraw ‘in accordance with its own constitutional arrangements’. In the UK, that decision is taken under prerogative powers by the Prime Minister of the day. Thus, it is for the Prime Minister to decide when to notify the European Council. The European Commission appears to have accepted over the weekend that it cannot (legally, at any rate) oblige the UK to trigger Article 50. The UK appears to be waiting until there is a new Prime Minister in place. There are suggestions that it might decide to wait until after the elections in France and Germany in 2017.

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Let’s Take Back Control – Or Should We?

Dr Phil Syrpis, Reader in Law, University of Bristol

Dr Phil Syrpis, Reader in Law, University of Bristol

During the referendum campaign on the UK’s membership of the European Union, arguments focusing on democracy have tended to be the preserve of those advocating for a Brexit. The rallying cry to “take back control” of “our” laws and borders, has become Vote Leave’s mantra.

There is some force behind this message. There is no doubt that EU membership entails costs, and by joining the EU, states agree to be bound by EU treaties. Both the treaties and EU legislation – typically adopted in the form of regulations or directives – are supreme over national law.

This hierarchy is applied by national courts, who, across Europe, have found creative ways of ensuring that they give full effect to EU law. The House of Lords and Supreme Court have consistently held that where UK law conflicts with provisions of the EU treaties, it cannot be applied – though the UK courts are at pains to emphasise the qualified nature of the primacy of EU law.

The EU treaties also give the EU legislature a broad competence to act. For example, the EU has created an internal market in Europe and has imposed a range of social and environmental standards on its member states.

In addition, the judicial arm of the EU – the European Court of Justice – has held that a number of national rules breach EU law. This has had a significant influence on the regulatory landscape in the member states, such as strengthening equal pay laws.

So there is no doubt that EU law creates constraints which affect the ability of the member states to control their laws – and that Brexit would indeed enable the UK to take back some control. But, when we examine the way in which these constraints are imposed and consider the alternatives, the leave campaign’s case begins to take on a different hue.

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Brexit and Worker Rights

Prof Michael Ford QC, Professor of Law, University of Bristol Law School

Professor Michael Ford QC, Professor of Law, University of Bristol Law School

It is now pretty well-known that most of the employment rights in the UK are guaranteed by EU law—the principal exceptions are unfair dismissal and the national minimum wage —as I explained in a recent advice for the TUC. UK legislation on race discrimination, sex discrimination, equal pay and disability discrimination may have pre-dated EU Directives in these areas, but EU law led to protection against other forms of discrimination, such as detrimental treatment owing to age, sexual orientation and religion and belief. Over the years EU law has greatly supplemented or overwritten the domestic regime, almost always in favour of workers’ rights – removing limits on damages, recognising that pregnancy discrimination did not need a comparator, changing rules on the burden of proof, allowing equal pay claims for work of equal value, protecting against harassment and post-employment victimisation. I could go on.

Now extending far beyond discrimination, the EU-guaranteed rights include almost all the working time protections, including paid annual leave and limits on working hours; the protection of agency, fixed-term and part-time workers; rights on the transfers of an undertaking (extremely significant in a world dominated by out-sourcing); many rights to information and collective consultation; the most important health and safety regulations; the right to a written statement of terms of employment; protections in insolvency derived from the EU Insolvency Directive, which led to important extensions to the state guarantee of pension benefits and protection of other claims where the employer is insolvent (no doubt to be in play in relation to British Home Stores); and EU data protection law, the driving force behind the Information Commissioner’s Employment Practices Code, providing some controls over the monitoring and surveillance of workers.

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The EU, Brexit and nature conservation law

Dr Margherita Pieraccini, Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol

Dr Margherita Pieraccini, Lecturer in Law, University of Bristol

The EU plays a fundamental role in shaping the environmental law regimes of its Member States and that of the UK is no exception. A significant proportion of current domestic environmental law derives from EU Regulations (that automatically become part of English law) and EU Directives (that are implemented through national legislation).

Nature conservation law, i.e. the legal regime used to protect environmentally significant habitats and species, is a case in point and the focus of this blog. Conserving nature is key not only from a purely biodiversity standpoint but also from an ‘ecosystem services’ perspective. Ecosystem services are the benefits nature brings to the environment and to people, including supporting services (e.g. nutrient cycling), provisioning services (e.g. food), regulating services (e.g. carbon capture) and cultural services (e.g. recreation).

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