In 2016, the United Kingdom (UK) voted to leave the European Union (EU), with the divorce officially completed in 2020. This change has profound implications for the teaching of EU law in the UK post-Brexit, as well as further afield on the European continent.
EU law is a popular specialism for those studying on LL.M. degree programs, as it assesses how EU member states intersect. It also offers ample career opportunities at major European institutions, as this field of study permeates the law of each individual member state, with legal integration a common goal.
Brexit has added further intrigue, with the UK attempting to scrap many EU-derived laws, and having to pass swathes of new legislation around issues such as employment rights and environmental protection. These dynamic changes mean that it may be necessary for law schools to fundamentally redesign their EU law modules and courses in light of the UK’s exit from the EU.
“Brexit indeed raises questions on the role of EU law in the curriculum of undergraduate and postgraduate law programs – not only in terms of their content but their very existence,” says Dr Angelos Dimopoulos, Senior Lecturer in Law at Queen Mary University of London.
Yet most UK law schools, including Queen Mary University of London, retain EU law as a core undergraduate module and it features prominently in many postgraduate programs, such as LL.M. courses.
EU law still a core component of the LL.M. curriculum
“Brexit did not change the fundamentals of EU law, its influence on the domestic legal order of EU member states, or its global appeal and influence outside the EU,” says Dimopoulos. “To the extent that EU law remains relevant for the study of domestic and global legal questions, it features prominently in both undergraduate and postgraduate programs.”
With that said, a number of significant changes to the teaching of EU law have been necessitated by Brexit. “Brexit can be incorporated into the teaching of EU law by examining and critically reflecting on the changes that it brought,” Dimopoulos says.
“From an institutional viewpoint, this could mean ensuring the curriculum includes a closer examination of the UK-EU relationship, as reflected in the Withdrawal Agreement and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA),” he says. The Withdrawal Agreement established the terms of the UK’s orderly withdrawal from the EU, in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty of the EU. The TCA established a new framework for law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal and civil law matters.
Brexit has also influenced several substantive areas of law. “The Northern Ireland Protocol presents a unique opportunity to revisit domestic, EU and international trade rules,” says Dimopoulos, citing a trading arrangement that allows goods to be transported without the need for checks across Northern Ireland’s land border with the Republic of Ireland, which is part of the EU. The EU has strict rules for border checks on goods such as milk and eggs that arrive from non-EU countries such as Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK.
Keeping EU law attractive in the UK
One question for UK law schools is how to make EU law attractive to prospective LL.M. students in a country that itself is no longer an EU member state.
“EU law is still relevant and necessary for a legal practitioner to study: a large body of domestic law duplicates EU law, and its application and interpretation relies upon the system in which it originates and its interpretation by the Court of Justice of the European Union,” explains Professor Panos Koutrakos, a Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law at The City Law School in London.
EU law still applies to the rights of certain citizens, and it still applies in Northern Ireland in relation to certain policy areas. “Furthermore, given the reputation of the UK as a center for legal services, there is good reason for legal practitioners to familiarize themselves with how the EU legal order works,” Koutrakos says. “For instance, the English Bar is well known for its EU law expertise and is still very much in demand for EU law disputes.”
He goes on to say that a lawyer practicing in the UK, one of the most international legal hubs, would be interested in the law governing the third largest economy in the world (the EU) comprising 27 member states, and which exerts considerable influence beyond its territory. “Furthermore, either directly or indirectly, EU law is necessary in order to understand a considerable body of domestic law in the UK,” he says.
Back at Queen Mary, Dimopoulos says UK law schools have a long tradition of offering comparative law studies, and being open and outward-looking.
“Despite Brexit, EU law remains relevant for the study of Law: in the form of retained EU law as part of domestic UK law, as a crucial component of the current UK-EU relationship in the context of the Withdrawal Agreement and the TCA, and more importantly, as a key element of the global legal order,” he concludes. “In that sense, the study of EU law becomes crucial.”