Brexit: An amicable divorce? (Speech)

Lord David Owen’s speech to the University of Oxford International Relations Society, Wednesday 17 May 2017.

View Lord Owen’s speech (approx 45 mins), courtesy of Voices from Oxford.


Read the speech: Brexit- An amicable divorce?


My main message is Brexit does not belong to the Conservative Party. It belongs to us all whether in different parties or people who voted Leave or Remain in the referendum.

I hope today to dispel some myths and establish some facts about the European Economic Area Agreement, EEAA and why it is a potential vehicle for the ‘implementation period’ that should follow exiting the EU and which we will leave once we have an EU/UK trade agreement or conclude the EU is too dysfunctional to offer an agreement of mutual advantage.

What this existing EEAA transitional mechanism provides is a framework which we leave when we want to after having left the EU after two years with a further three years maximum for agreeing a trade agreement. There is no cliff edge. No point where we negotiate in good faith and find the design of Article 50 precipitates a crisis choice ‘accept or chaos’ under this existing legal structure. David Cameron told the country before the referendum that we would invoke Article 50 while ignoring the fact that it is designed in a way that is a deterrent to leaving because of its in-built cliff edge. The design is deliberate so that in some circumstances we could be left with a ‘take it’ or ‘leave it’ offer with little time to adapt.

It was not foolish for the government to say that faced by a bad offer from the EU, which we are not allowed to change, we would leave. It would have been irresponsible to declare any other position. But it would also be irresponsible not to assert our right to remain a Contracting Party to the EEAA after we have left the EU, and if necessary to exercise our right to use the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, VCLT, dispute procedure to establish in law that right.

The EEA Agreement is binding upon the Contracting Parties, one of which is the UK. It is a multilateral international treaty. It is not a bilateral agreement between the EU and EFTA as is sometimes supposed. Decision-making autonomy in respect of treaties is, of course, constrained for EU Member States, but by the EC/EU Treaties, not by the EEAA.

NEU states, as the UK will be after leaving in March 2019, retain their unconstrained treaty-making powers outside the ECJ: a major difference between the entailments of the EC/EU Treaties and of the EEAA.

Read Lord Owen’s full speech here: Brexit- An amicable divorce?

View the Q+A session following the speech