Brexit Alert - But What About the Ankara Agreement?

25 February 2017
As we have previously advised and warned our readers, Brexit is real and it is going to happen. Despite the best endeavours in the courts of some Remainers, who would dearly like to thwart Brexit, the opinion of the electorate in the referendum of June 2016 is going to be respected, both by the Government and (most of) Her Majesty’s Opposition.

Regarding the latter Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Opposition and erstwhile Remainer, has clearly said so and he attempted - with varying success - to impose a three-line whip on Labour MPs to force them to vote in favour of the Government’s “Brexit Bill” (more properly known as the “European Union Bill”). This is the Bill which will initiate the Brexit process and, despite some resistance, in the event it passed through its first stages in the House of Commons with a good majority.

This means that the Brexit process will start imminently. It also provides a strong indication that the Government will indeed be able to steer Brexit through Parliament, albeit that recent decisions in the courts (see previous articles) dictate that the Government is going to have to consult Parliament more than it might have done otherwise, and no doubt the process is going to be more complicated than it would have been.

The Prime Minister Theresa May (also an erstwhile Remainer) is expected to trigger Article 50 next month, March 2017, which will formally initiate Brexit. The vague (and entirely untested) expectation is that the Brexit process will take about two years.

As one of its concessions to Parliament, the Government has published a White Paper about Brexit, which provides at least some details of its intentions, including its intentions about immigration. It emerges that (and surely inevitably so) the Government will not attempt to push through proposals about immigration without the involvement of Parliament.

The White Paper states: “Implementing any new immigration arrangements for EU nationals and the support they receive will be complex and parliament will have an important role in considering these matters further. We expect to bring forward separate bills on immigration and customs.”

So at least we now know that the Government’s proposals about immigration will be subjected to full parliamentary scrutiny, and we also know that there may be strong pressure in Parliament to achieve a good immigration deal for Europeans, in conjunction with a good immigration deal for Britons living in Europe.

The White Paper also deals with the subject of what used to be called the “European Court of Justice” (ECJ) but which is now called the “Court of Justice of the European Union” (CJEU), which of course trips off the tongue far more easily. The CJEU is the “supreme court” for European law, and its decisions on European law matters are final and binding. This means that its decisions about European law are binding on British courts, including even the Supreme Court (previously known as the House of Lords) which, in this context, is not quite so supreme. (This, it hardly needs be said, is something deeply resented by Brexiteers.)

But the White Paper states that the UK, as well withdrawing from the EU, will be withdrawing from the CJEU’s jurisdiction. It says: “We will take control of our own affairs, as those who voted in their millions to leave the EU demanded we must, and bring an end to the jurisdiction in the UK of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).”

This development is hardly surprising - it surely would not make much sense for the UK to leave the one and stay with the other - and the rather rhetorical tone is indicative.

But whereas we read a lot in the media about EU migrants and (more accurately) EEA migrants we read very little if anything about Turkish migrants, and it is very likely that the man on the Clapham omnibus - or, in more modern style, perhaps the person on the Clapham bus - knows nothing about the Ankara Agreement.

And yet the Ankara Agreement is an important association agreement made between Turkey and the European Economic Community (as it used to be called) way back in 1963. This agreement was supposed to help pave the way towards Turkish membership of the EEC. This is a project now indefinitely stalled but nonetheless the Ankara Agreement remains, and when the UK joined the EEC in 1973 the UK became subject to it.

The Agreement (also known by its acronym “ECAA”) has different parts to it: one parts deals with employment and another part enables Turkish nationals to apply to come to or remain in the UK, set up a business and run it, and in this way acquire immigration status.

The Ankara Agreement is part of European law (as evidenced for example by the fact that the CJEU is the supreme court for Ankara Agreement matters), more than English law. And so if the CJEU - and European law in general - loses its effect and relevance in the UK, what will be the fate of the Ankara Agreement in the UK and of those Turkish nationals who hold visas granted on that basis?

The answer to this question is not clear at the moment. The Prime Minister very recently made a visit to Turkey to meet with President Erdogan to discuss Anglo-Turkish trade relations in the light of the forthcoming Brexit. The meeting was evidently cordial and constructive, but nothing is reported to have been discussed or agreed about the Ankara Agreement.

Perhaps the cordiality is a good indication. The two leaders agreed to boost and foster trade, and presumably the Ankara Agreement is something that might be seen to contribute to that, and especially as many Turkish businesspeople who hold Ankara Agreement visas are involved in importing and exporting between Turkey and the UK.

But, on the other hand, some words on the “Conservative Friends of Turkey” website (a Conservative Party political organisation which may presumably reflect Government thinking) are discouraging: “While special treaties such as the Ankara agreement between Britain and Turkey have sought to bolster economic links by allowing Turkish workers to set up business ventures, such accords are not enough and have often led to irregular migration.”

So we will have to see how things transpire, and we will of course keep our readers informed if any news about this emerges.


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