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It has been reported (for example here) that Donald Trump suggested the UK sue the EU as an alternative to negotiating Brexit. Many interpretations of these comments are possible and as the discussion below shows, I am not having much success making sense of them, but here goes.

I want to ask if the UK government could, through some legal process force the EU to offer a deal more to their liking. In other words could some court or similar body constrain the form of any final agreement or alter the way in which the EU negotiates, possibly imposing some compensation if the EU doesn't comply?

As a layperson the only venue I can think of for such a legal process would be the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). According to the link just given, the functions of the CJEU include

  • ensuring the EU takes action (actions for failure to act) – the Parliament, Council and Commission must make certain decisions under certain circumstances. If they don't, EU governments, other EU institutions or (under certain conditions) individuals or companies can complain to the Court.

  • sanctioning EU institutions (actions for damages) – any person or company who has had their interests harmed as a result of the action or inaction of the EU or its staff can take action against them through the Court.

On the face of it either of these could be an answer, but it is not so clear if they really apply here. Note the link does not give a compete list of things the CJEU can do, but only the most common ones.

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Could the UK “sue the EU” to alter the Brexit settlement? Is this possible?

No. That's a mistaken and vexatious suggestion. No one who knows the basics of contract law would come up with that suggestion.

It appears that the UK negotiation team knowingly and willfully accepted the terms of the agreement it reached with its EU counterpart. Absent evidence that the agreement was entered under hardship or made fraudulently, the UK would not prevail in a lawsuit about terms to which it has consented.

The UK could sue the EU on grounds which to this date do not appear to have occurred, such as fraudulent misrepresentations, or a EU's unilateral and material breach of the terms agreed upon.

  • I would appreciate a couple of clarifications. First, no final agreement has yet been reached, so I don't think that an agreement has been "knowingly and willfully accepted". Second, as I understand it the deal would take the form of one or more international treaties, and I would be surprised if contract law ever applied to such things. – Simon L Rydin Myerson Jul 15 '18 at 14:31
  • @SimonLRydinMyerson The original agreement to join the EU. – gnasher729 Jul 15 '18 at 15:05
  • @gnasher729 very possibly Trump was thinking of altering/getting compensation for that original agreement. My question is specifically about altering or adding to the Brexit deal, however. I will edit the question to clarify. – Simon L Rydin Myerson Jul 15 '18 at 15:29
  • @SimonLRydinMyerson My point is that the idea of "We'll accept these terms and we'll sue later on" is a self-defeating approach because that acceptance would have been made knowingly and willfully. Moreover, the UK is engaging in negotiations because it is trying to avoid a harsher scenario referred to as hard Brexit. The UK's permanence in the negotiations indicates that it still considers a hard Brexit the worst outcome. The principles of contract law are inherently applicable to international treaties; the latter are a type of of contract where the parties to it are nations. – Iñaki Viggers Jul 15 '18 at 16:50
  • @Iñaki Viggers I don't think Trump was suggesting to accept whatever the EU was offering and sue later on. The reason for this is that he described his suggestion as "brutal" and Theresa May described it as "not go[ing] into negotiations". Neither of these suggest listening to the EU proposal and agreeing to it, which would be an extremely non brutal way to go into and out of negotiations. (Also "hard Brexit" does not necessarily imply "no deal Brexit", but that's another matter.) Again I will edit to clarify. – Simon L Rydin Myerson Jul 15 '18 at 20:41

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