For months, now, a hunt has been on for the government’s Brexit strategy. Theresa May has quite rightly refused to disclose it. She knows that the European Union needs to be seen to make Britain suffer. She will have to ask for for a lot, only to back down so the EU can have its pound of British flesh. The hope is that she can then emerge with what she wanted all along. So a game of bluff is under way. This has created a rather unsatisfactory situation where Parliament wants to know where she will draw the line, and she refuses to say. Her every word is scoured for clues. None have been forthcoming.
No one scours the House of Lords for clues on anything nowadays, and yet the real Brexit strategy may have been revealed in an announcement by Baroness Neville-Rolfe, a business minister. Britain, she said, has decided to press ahead with plans to join an EU-wide patent system. This is a major overhaul, requiring UK courts to give up jurisdiction over patents, pooling sovereignty with the rest of Europe. One of the central divisions of the proposed Unified Patent Court will be in London, with the other two in Munich and Paris — all overseen by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. There will be British lawyers among the judges. All will proceed, it seems, as if Britain had never voted to leave the EU.
The decision has astonished those in the industry, who had believed that Britain’s membership of the European patent court had been torpedoed by Brexit. In theory, a Dutch company will be able to go to a court in Greece and be granted an order, without notice, for a 6 a.m.