Brexit news latest: Legal expert who’ll decide Britain’s future ‘may be name drawn out of a hat’

NIcholas Cecil
Brexit plans: Theresa May: Getty Images

Britain's future as a sovereign nation could be decided by an individual whose name has been “drawn out of a hat” under Theresa May’s Brexit plans, the Standard reveals today.

The details of the Government’s proposed “divorce” agreement from the European Union show that the legal expert whose vote could rule on the country’s fate may be chosen by “lot”.

The 585-page deal, if it gets approval from Parliament and other European nations, would be overseen by a joint UK/EU committee tasked with its implementation. But if they cannot agree on a matter of dispute, they would be able to refer it to a five-strong arbitration panel. The panel would be made up of two people nominated by the UK and two more by the EU.

The members would then seek to choose by “consensus” a chair from a shortlist of five candidates previously approved by the UK and EU.

But if the panel fails to agree on a chairman or chairwoman, then either Britain or Brussels could ask the Secretary-General of the Permanent Court of Arbitration to select a person for this key role “by lot” from the shortlist.

Given that such a situation might be in a stand-off scenario, this vote could be decisive in ruling on matters such as whether a proposed future trade partnership was acceptable to allow the UK to quit a “backstop” arrangement keeping it in a customs union. Former Labour trade minister Gareth Thomas said: “It’s almost unbelievable that the Government is staking the future of Britain’s relationship with Europe on possibly the right name being drawn out of a hat.

“This is the sort of thing that you expect at Christmas fairs to try to win a teddy bear for your children — not to decide the fate of thousands of jobs and multi-million-pound investment decisions.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable added: “The future of our country rests on a lottery — that can’t be right. It suggests how fragile is the nature of the deal that they have negotiated.” The Government denied that such crucial decisions could come down to luck.

A spokesman said: “There is no question of our future being decided by chance as all members of the arbitration panel, including the chairperson, will be independent — and on that basis the ‘our team versus their team’ scenario, with the chairperson tipping the balance, is simply wrong.”

All panel members must be “independent” and also possess the qualifications required for appointment to the highest judicial office in their respective countries or have recognised suitable competence, as well as having expertise in EU law and international public law.

The dispute resolution mechanism for the withdrawal agreement was at the heart of the deadlock over the Brexit talks, which was only broken earlier this month.