Donald Trump is right! Theresa May could sue the EU to get a better Brexit deal, says leading barrister

Christopher Hope
Donald Trump and Theresa May at the weekend - AP

Donald Trump could be onto something when he urged Theresa May to try to sue the European Union to get a better deal for Britain as it leaves the European Union.

Legal experts said the President’s exhortation to Mrs May during her visit to the White House in January last year to take Brussels to court was based on legal foundation.

Much was made by the President about “the advice” he gave the Prime Minister when they met at Chequers on Friday. At their joint press conference, Mr Trump repeatedly referred to “brutal” suggestions he gave Mrs May.

On Sunday Mrs May revealed that some of his advice was in fact to “sue the EU”.

Martin Howe QC, a leading expert on EU law, said when Mr Trump gave the advice to Mrs May last year the UK could have taken action over the “phasing” of the talks.

Britain then had just agreed to the EU’s timetable of agreeing terms on the bill to be paid to leave, the Irish border and the terms of the exit, before moving to future trade talks.

Mr Howe said: “Quite serious legal commentators have argued that the phasing of the negotiations was contrary to EU law because Article 50 says the withdrawal agreement has to ‘take account of the framework for the future relationship’. How can you take account of that framework until you have talked about it?”

Steve Bannon on Chopper's Brexit Podcast Credit:  Jeff Gilbert/ Jeff Gilbert

But Mr Howe made clear that the only recourse for legal action would have been the European Court of Justice – making it in practice unlikely that this legal argument would have succeeded.

Mr Howe said: “The other aspect where the EU could be sued is if they do things after we leave that are contrary to World Trade Organisation laws. That’s another area.”

On Friday, Steve Bannon, who in January last year worked in the White House as the President's chief strategist, gave further details of the advice Mr Trump gave to Mrs May about how to get the best deal to take the UK out of the EU when she visited the White House in January last year.

Referring to the president's advice to Mrs May to be “brutal” in Brexit negotiations, Mr Bannon told Chopper's Brexit Podcast on the Telegraph's website: “Trump gave her some pointers and pulled her off to the side and said, 'Hey if I was doing this here is how tough you have got to be because these guys are not going to let you go'.

"He gave her the précis [of his book 'The Art of the Deal'] which is 'overshoot your target, be tough and get on with it - because if this drags on it is going to be bad'."