Michael Dougan comes to Bath

Were you one of the 850 who saw Michael Dougan speak at the Forum in October?

If you missed it you can watch it here: https://youtu.be/asJLxqGjYrM

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Professor Michael Dougan was heralded as the Internet star of the referendum when his mini-lecture on the ‘industrial-scale dishonesty’ of the Leave campaign attracted 7 million hits on Facebook and YouTube. So great things were expected of the Liverpool University law professor when he came to Bath to talk on ‘Brexit means Brexit means what exactly?’ And he didn’t disappoint.

The crowdfunded event at The Forum, organised by local non-party political group Bath for Europe, was a sell out. Speaking to a packed audience, Professor Dougan, an expert in EU constitutional law, gave a clear and measured analysis of the current post-referendum situation from his perspective as a lawyer. There was no political rabble rousing or fantasy economic forecasts – just the facts, backed by evidence. The future, as he sees it, does not look rosy.
‘It was curious pinning a date,’ he said of Teresa May’s announcement to invoke article 50 by the end of March. Either it showed the government was completely prepared and wouldn’t be derailed by the French and German elections – or ‘they have no clear idea.’ His conclusion was that the government is driven by ideology and ‘we have cause to be worried.’

He dismissed the notion the EU would be deliberately punitive but, as each country has its national interests and a right to defend them, he stressed it would not be in the EU’s interests to allow the UK to cherry pick the best deal. In the end it came down to a ‘ divorce settlement – what do we do with each others’ migrants?’ Ultimately, we would have to broker a new relationship but the government’s lack of clarity and incapacity to negotiate could have lasting consequences. He also considered the vote to leave wasn’t just about living the EU but about ‘transforming the UK internally and externally.’

He explained the internal and external legal challenges to prepare for Brexit and discussed the current case in the courts which contests the use of royal prerogative to trigger Article 50 without a parliamentary vote. As a lawyer, he said there were compelling arguments on both sides but he admitted with a huge grin he’d be delighted if the government lost its case. As we live in a parliamentary democracy, it would be a ‘constitutional perversion’ if parliament were given no chance to vote. It’s not for ‘ the government to interpret as it pleases.’

There was a full hour for questions, strongly chaired by Stephen Perry, from Bristol for Europe and a range of subjects was covered: the implications for Northern Ireland, other EU countries and the shift in the balance of power, and who really blocked treaty reform. Concern about the rights of EU citizens living in the UK was raised which is unsurprising as Bath has over 5000 EU-born residents. Professor Dougan said things were often reciprocal, not just for living but travelling – the return of visas?

A key question: once the leaving process has begun, can it be stopped? Is Brexit irrevocable? In the end, Professor Dougan stressed, although legally possible, it would be as much about politics as the law.

He ended on a positive note saying that politicians should be held to account for the lies they have told and ‘the most important tool we have is not giving them our vote.’