BRUSSELS has urged member states to reject Britain’s request to join a cross-border legal pact.
The European Commission has drawn up plans to convince capitals to block the UK’s bid to join the Lugano Convention. Downing Street has previously asked to become an independent member of the accord, that determines which countries’ courts have jurisdiction over cross-border civil and commercial disputes. The international agreement is signed by the European Union, Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and Denmark, and also allows judgements to be enforced abroad.
Eurocrats have warned member states that Britain’s membership would constitute a single market privilege and have urged them to block any requests to join.
But splits emerged in a private meeting with no fewer than 10 EU capitals showing support for the UK to join the convention as an independent country.
Express.co.uk understands Spain, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as the Nordic and Baltic states are backing British membership.
Iceland, Norway and Switzerland are part of the pact through their EFTA connection to the EU’s single market.
French President Emmanuel Macron is siding with the Commission’s hardline stance to reject any application.
Germany is undecided on its position because of governmental splits but could play a key role in Britain rejoining Lugano because EU capitals have the final say on any decision.
Foreign affairs minister Heiko Maas was said to be at loggerheads with justice minister Christine Lambrecht over the decision.
The Commission is set to publish new advice in a bid to win over undecided Berlin in the coming weeks, according to a source familiar with the discussions.
The “communication” will say that allowing the UK to join Lugano as an independent member could open the door to other “third country applications”, the insider added.
Eurocrats want to make clear that the accord is an “internal market” instrument and not a standard international agreement.
It will also be noted that the UK will sign up to European Court of Justice jurisdiction over the Lugano membership.
This could be seen as a move to force Boris Johnson into withdrawing his application after opposing any influence from European judges in the post-Brexit future relationship pact.
A European Commission spokesman said: “The UK applied to join the Lugano Convention on April 8, 2020.
“The Commission has conducted a thorough assessment of the request and has discussed it with Member States. It will come forward with a Communication in the coming weeks.
“It is worth noting, however, that the Lugano Convention is a tool used within the EU-EFTA/EEA context.
“The UK has chosen to leave the EU, the Single Market and the Customs Union. It has chosen to have a more distant relationship with the EU than EEA-EFTA countries. These choices have to be taken into account when determining the EU’s position.”
The Government is set to argue that Britain’s rejoining Lugano is in the interests of all its members.
A UK Government spokesman said: “UK accession to the Lugano Convention is in the interests of the UK and all contracting parties, supporting EU/EFTA and UK citizens, families and businesses faced with cross border legal disputes, and as an international agreement open to third countries, the Lugano Convention provides a pragmatic solution for civil judicial cooperation.
“The UK welcomes the consent of Switzerland, Iceland and Norway to its application and will continue to engage with all contracting parties.”
Lawyers have reacted with disappointment to the Commission’s stance, arguing that Britain’s exclusion from Lugano would increase the costs of litigation and makes judgements harder to enforce.
Sara Chisholm-Batten, of Michelmores LLP, said: “The news today is a real setback for UK businesses and individuals. If the UK is accepted into Lugano, it would result in judgments being recognised and enforced across UK and EU / EFTA borders much more swiftly and cost-effectively – which would be welcome news for UK businesses trading in those areas – and EU businesses trading in the UK.
“It would also provide a more predictable and settled framework for individuals who hold assets in those jurisdictions. Without that certainty, cross-border cases become much more difficult to resolve efficiently.”