The significance of European Union Law for the future Commonwealth lawyer

Paper presented at the 2017 CLEA Conference in Melbourne

Anne Wesemann
The Open University, UK

In a time where the UK’s relationship with the European Union is uncertain, the relationship between the Commonwealth as a whole and the EU is bound to change.
Developing an EU module for distance learning at the OU, which is going to be delivered for the first time this autumn, saw as at the frontline of this changes. As soon as the referendum result was confirmed, student queries poured in, expecting the compulsory nature of the module to change.
This paper will explore the relevance of EU law for the Commonwealth lawyer, not just despite the changing membership status of the UK, but rather explicitly because of the expected withdrawal of the UK from the Union.

The paper will argue three points:

1. The constitutional challenge

The current legal challenges of the proposed withdrawal process show, how the UK’s constitution is confronted by opposing understandings of its core.
It is vital for Commonwealth lawyers to be an informed part of this debate as the UK’s constitution relates to the constitutional frameworks of most, if not all Commonwealth countries.
A clarification of the constitutional principles of royal prerogative and parliamentary sovereignty are highly significant for any Commonwealth lawyer looking to practice or research.

2.The economic need

As the UK unties its bond to the European Union legal framework, it will necessarily unravel years of cross-border trade arrangements. This will not only relate to the exchange of goods but also that of expertise, services, people.
A turn to Commonwealth nations is likely and by doing so the UK is bound to aim to develop a similarly functional framework of agreements to that with the EU. Understanding the nature of European Union trade in general and single market law in particular will allow Commonwealth lawyers, especially those aiming for a career in the industry, to be an integral part of such debates and to successfully impact on future agreements.

3.The global challenge

The UK’s withdrawal from EU membership will not leave one nation of the western world unaffected. As the UK’s constitution is challenged and economic growth at threat, this country will rush to find its new position in the world.
Lessons learned from European Union law as one unique international law sphere, will help the UK to shift into a new and successful role as part of the wider global community. The process and result will again have a significant impact on Commonwealth lawyers and requires them to understand the international law principles and elements of European Union Law.

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