Theresa May is risking Tory Brexit unity with rethink over the European Court of Justice

Brexit negotiations: Four biggest issuesNewsweek

Prime Minister Theresa May appears to be dropping one of her Brexit "red lines", risking unity within the Conservative parliamentary party in the process.

May, time and again, has said the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will have no say over the UK after Brexit. The Tory premier, speaking at Lancaster House, London, in January, said such a position was imperative for the millions of people who voted to split from Brussels.

"We will take back control of our laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the ECJ in Britain. Leaving the European Union will mean that our laws will be made in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

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"And those laws will be interpreted by judges not in Luxembourg but in courts across this country. Because we will not have truly left the European Union if we are not in control of our own laws."

But with the Tories losing their majority of MPs in the House of Commons at the election and the early talks between Brexit Secretary David Davis and the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier failing to make any significant progress, a new position paper will say that the "direct jurisdiction" of the ECJ will end after Brexit.

The wording suggests that the ECJ may have a limited influence on UK law after the split. Such a position would be unpalatable for so called "hard Brexit" Tory MPs, who want a "clean" break from Brussels.

Justice Minister Dominic Raab, himself a well-known Eurosceptic, has been dispatched by Number 10 to tour the TV studios to deny a climbdown. But fellow pro-Brexit Tory Bernard Jenkin is not convinced, telling The Telegraph: "The ECJ should not have any role in interpreting any agreement between the EU and the UK."

Labour's Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer, meanwhile, said: "Any final deal with the EU that protects jobs and the economy will require an effective and robust dispute resolution mechanism. This will inevitably involve some form of independent court.

"The Prime Minister's ideological insistence that there can be no future role whatsoever for the ECJ or any similar court-like body risks preventing the deal Britain needs. It has already held back a sensible and early agreement on issues such as Euratom and EU citizens.

"But the repeated reference to ending the 'direct jurisdiction' of the ECJ is potentially significant. This appears to contradict the red line laid out in the Prime Minister's Lancaster House speech and the government's white paper, which stated there could be no future role of the ECJ and that all laws will be interpreted by judges in this country."

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