We spoke to the country’s number one EU law professor about what Brexit means for law students

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By Katie King on

Author of EU law bible also mulls over the High Court challenge and the possibility of a second referendum


Few people were more in demand in the run up to the United Kingdom’s referendum on European Union membership than EU law professors.

Take Michael Dougan, University of Liverpool professor and staunch Remain campaigner. A video he made about the EU went viral in the days just before 23 June, clawing in nearly seven million views.

Also doing his bit was Paul Craig, Oxford professor of English law, whose name you might recognise as one half of Craig and de Búrca — authors of that Holy Grail EU law textbook.

Speaking to Legal Cheek all the way from Indiana where he is currently teaching, Craig explained he wrote a number of articles for Full Fact in the weeks running up to referendum D-Day.

Though Craig is, understandably, a strong Remain supporter, he told us his articles were motivated not by politics but by fact. In his eyes, they were “clear”, “objective” and all pointing in the same direction: the UK should remain a Member State of the EU.

It’s hardly worth reminding readers that’s not the outcome we got.

Come 24 June, lawyers were, all in all, upset. Philip Marshall QC said he was “appalled”, former government lawyer Carl Gardner “devastated” — how then does a man like Craig, who has dedicated his career to the EU, go about accepting this result?

Like this:

Of course I was disappointed. I felt extremely disappointed for my country. I genuinely feel it was the wrong decision — economically, cultural and politically. I feel very sad for the younger generation. I’m 64-years-old now, but it’s the younger generation that will be affected the most.

But it’s not just the result that Craig takes issue with. As frustrating was the campaign.

Craig, who unusually for an academic has his own Wikipedia page, was very willing to accept neither side of the debate conducted itself perfectly. But, he said:

The Leave campaign was much, much, much worse, certainly in terms of factual distortions.

Of all the events leading up to and out of the EU referendum, the thing he found most shocking was “the xenophobia” stirred by the Leave campaign. He fears there’s been a “false picture” of EU migrants painted — one of job stealers and benefits tourists — which seems to have let a rather ugly genie out of the bottle.

The whole thing is “very frustrating”, but now is the time to look forward.

In terms of next steps, one question that’s been floating about ever since the Brexit vote — and stronger still since Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith got behind the idea — is whether there could be referendum number two. We asked for Craig’s predictions on this:

Constitutionally a second referendum is possible, and I think it might happen. It all depends on the sort of withdrawal deal we are able to negotiate. If people think ‘this is an awful deal’, by any objective criteria, then there will be pressure on government to at least agree to a parliamentary debate on the issue, if not a second referendum.

And that swathe of legal cases challenging the referendum result? Craig isn’t too sure about them:

The legal arguments here are very complex and contestable. My own view is parliament definitely has the power to demand a parliamentary vote before Article 50 is triggered. The issue is that parliament doesn’t show any inclination to do this at the moment. So the question is this: is there a duty enforceable through the courts for parliament to debate and vote before Article 50 is triggered? On this point, my view is no, but that’s what the courts will have to decide.

While the media spotlight will continue to shine brightly on this legal challenge and other Brexit developments, something a little closer to home seems to be occupying the minds of law students.

Since the vote to leave, there have been a lot of concerns raised about the defunctness of EU law as a subject, no longer welcome by students as a compulsory module on qualifying law degrees (as the tweets in this article make clear). Oxford-educated Craig, echoing the sentiments of many other academics, was quick to rubbish these claims:

Even if we do leave, and that’s assuming that we do, the EU will still exist, so it will remain at the very least an important optional subject on law school syllabuses.

The message from Craig — arguably the number one EU law academic in the country — is clear: “the idea that EU law as a subject is about to fall off a cliff is simply not true.” So, please, don’t lose faith in the subject just yet.