Brussels has ordered European capitals to reject Britain’s request to join a cross-border legal pact after the end of the Brexit transition period.
Eurocrats have said there were obvious grounds to reject the UK’s application to remain part of the Lugano convention beyond the end of the year. The Government earlier this month asked to become an independent member of the treaty, which determines which country’s courts have jurisdiction over cross-border civil and commercial disputes. The accord is signed by the European Union, Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and Denmark, and also allows for judgements to be enforced abroad.
Britain remains a signatory to the treaty as part of its post-Brexit transition period agreement with Brussels.
But lawyers have warned after December 31, English courts risk losing their influence in EU jurisdictions.
This would leave the UK reliant on less powerful international arrangements in the future.
Ben Rayment, a barrister at Monckton Chambers, said: “There is no doubt that creates the potential for greater expense and difficulty obtaining recognition and enforcement of the judgements of the English courts in the EU27.”
Post-Brexit trade negotiations have hit a rocky patch after a row broke out over the UK’s willingness to engage seriously with its EU counterparts.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said talks had been “disappointing” after they resumed after being disputed by the coronavirus crisis.
And senior EU officials went further, accusing British negotiators of deliberately wanting to push the talks towards a no-deal scenario – a claim the UK has rejected.
Britain wants to keep its Lugano convention application separate from the trade talks to avoid its request becoming a bargaining chip.
The Government wants its request to be resolved before the end of the transition period expires at the end of the year.
A UK spokesman said the Lugano convention is “an existing multilateral convention explicitly open to all countries around the world”.
They added: “We have co-operated with the countries who are signed up to the convention on matters of private international law for decades prior to the inception of the singe market and the EU.”
The European Council must first make a decision before Britain is allowed to join the legal pact.
At a meeting earlier this month, the Commission told EU27 diplomats that allowing Britain to join would hand the UK’s legal sector a significant boost.
The Brussels-based executive is readying a “detailed analysis” to be sent to EU capitals
Eurocrats are said to be “conducting a thorough assessment of the request and will discuss it with member states”.
Given Britain’s intent to quit the bloc’s single market, one official said the Commission “will surely not make a positive recommendation”.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland held “constructive talks” on the Lugano pact with Didier Reynders, the EU’s justice chief, at a gathering in Zagreb in January, a UK official said.
Britain formally applied to join the pact on April 8.
Applications should be answered within a year, according to the convention.
Some EU member states have expressed an interest in accepting the Government’s request.
One diplomat said it would be “quite logical to extend Lugano” to avoid potential disruptions for businesses.