After months of speculation regarding which senior Conservative figures will campaign for the UK to leave the EU, the current justice secretary Michael Gove and his predecessor Chris Grayling have emerged as two of the most prominent figures in the out camp. The split in the ranks of the governing Conservative Party over whether the UK should leave the EU is producing strange bedfellows, as questions loom large for the country’s legal framework should ‘Brexit’ occur.
After justice secretary Gove spent the last ten months publicly undoing a number of high-profile policies of his predecessor Grayling, the current Leader of the House of Commons, the pair officially joined forces as part of the Out Campaign over the weekend.
There will be some reservations in the legal profession that the Ministry of Justice’s policy agenda will be hampered for months by Gove’s role at a time when the ministry is going through a controversial series of cuts and proposing unpopular rises in court fees.
The pair have been joined by London Mayor Boris Johnson, who on Sunday (21 February) announced he was to join the leave campaign, becoming the most prominent Conservative politician to officially line up for Brexit.
Both Gove and Grayling posed with other members of Cameron’s cabinet for photos at the Vote Leave HQ on Saturday (20 February) after the Prime Minister returned with the deal he had negotiated with foreign leaders for reforms of the UK’s EU membership. Cameron secured a number of his target concessions from EU governments, though the concessions have done little to sway sceptics.
Grayling was quoted in The Independent as saying: ‘This is going to be a team effort. It is not going to be Conservative effort, it is going to be a cross-party effort.’
Gove’s contribution to this campaign is seemingly at odds with aspects of his role as justice minister as City lawyers and European law specialists have been among the most opposed to Brexit, citing concerns of the unprecedented challenge and uncertainty of unpicking 40 years of legislation drawing on EU directives. Legal Business research conducted with Herbert Smith Freehills last month found that 64% of general counsel wanted the UK to remain in the EU, against 22% supporting Brexit. A 2010 House of Commons report concluded that 50% of the UK’s economically significant laws are derived from EU legislation.
Daniel Jowell QC of Brick Court Chambers warned this year that those in the legal profession should not be voting blindly. ‘Given that we’re having this referendum fairly soon, one would expect there to be more discussion of this, especially among lawyers. The implications are primarily legal. You need to know what lies [beyond] the referendum before you can reasonably be expected to vote.’
Should the UK vote to leave, the most established options are: signing up to the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement; adopting something akin to the Swiss arrangement of bilateral treaties; adopting a Turkish-style customs union; or trading under pure World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
It was confirmed by the Prime Minister on Saturday that the referendum on the UK’s membership will be held on 23 June.
For in-depth analysis and the results of our survey of how general counsel are preparing their teams for a Brexit, see ‘Up in the air – as Brexit looms, GCs face leap into the unknown’