Site menu:

Site search

Get Updates

Enter your email address to hear about new posts. (You can view my privacy policy here.)


RSS Recent Posts

Archives (month)


We disagree … so you must be lying?

From working as an independent expert witness, I know only too well that it is not unusual to find one’s client acting as though nothing the opposing party says can ever be believed. As a mediator, I have seen this attitude taken by both sides simultaneously. Sometimes in a dispute, both sides are inveterate liars. But quite often I would see two parties who were both incapable of seeing that their opponent’s point of view was not built (entirely) on falsehood. It seems that is where we are now with Brexit.

How could O’Brien seriously believe that Brexiteers were quite simply lying about the existence of freedom of movement rules?

This week, I attended a talk which was ostensibly about the need for press regulation. But it was couched in terms of “Brexit and the Rise of Fake News”. The lead speaker was James O’Brien, a radio talk show host and sometime Newsnight presenter for the BBC. Despite portraying himself as the voice of objective reason – a claim he expressly made in response to a question from the audience – he asserted that EU freedom of movement was a lie. Theresa May, he told us, was wrong to claim that Brexit would allow the UK to control its own borders, because the government can already do that whilst inside the EU.

O’Brien’s source for this extraordinary claim was an EU directive from 2004, codifying the free movement rules as they were at that time. He read out Article 7 of that Directive to enforce his point. But the EU has since passed the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (aka “the Lisbon Treaty”) and given legal effect to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (in 2007 and 2009, respectively). These documents contain crucial components of the rules on free movement as they now stand.

See also:  A Few Good Men - but this one?

I doubt very much that O’Brien was deliberately lying. I think he just made a mistake. It was quite a big mistake, but an easy one to make. I have often tried to look up a piece of EU-legislation and not been quite certain that I have uncovered the full story. I, too, may have failed to uncover the full legislative picture on this very issue, but unless the Lisbon Treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights have been repealed without attracting publicity, I know that O’Brien’s evidence was well and truly out of date.

But what I find so utterly astonishing is that, after three years of discussion around freedom of movement, starting with David Cameron’s largely-failed, pre-referendum attempt to re-negotiate the UK’s obligations under freedom of movement, moving on through the referendum debate and the post-referendum Brexit negotiations, James O’Brien could seriously believe that Brexiteers were quite simply lying about the existence of the freedom of movement.

Perhaps the ultimate irony is that, before and after his talk, copies of O’Brien’s book, How to be Right, were on sale at the event. O’Brien was offering to sign copies. I wasn’t moved to buy one.

Sign up for updates by Email, Twitter or RSS Feed.

Related articles on this website
It seems that, when it comes to Brexit, we can’t trust anyone to get their facts right. Not even lawyers. At least, not Lawyers for a People’s Vote (LfaPV). I don’t ...
Read the complete article
In 2012, when I clicked on a link in order to watch a family friend appear in front of the Leveson Inquiry, I little realised just how much the subject ...
Read the complete article
I’m not sure quite how to say this. So I’ll say it twice:Yesterday, a young graduate won her claim against the government’s back-to-work scheme. She argued that the regulations and ...
Read the complete article
I keep hearing that last Friday's agreement between the UK and the EU 27 means that a hard Brexit is off the table. Well, I'm looking at the table and ...
Read the complete article
What are the chances of being able to write a 2,000 page report on press regulation and walk away with all-party support (or even all-Party support)? Plainly, not very high. ...
Read the complete article
I was disappointed to read recently that the UK has dropped to 40th place in the World Press Freedom Index. Among the 39 countries which are said to offer the ...
Read the complete article
Today’s big argument is said to be about privacy and the public interest. I think there must be more to it that that. Most commentators seem to be going round ...
Read the complete article
Much has been written about the Government’s appeal to the Supreme Court in the Brexit case. Political commentators tell us that the appeal is very likely to fail. Many lawyers ...
Read the complete article
Lawyers for Alternative Facts?
A pressing need for regulation …
Journalists in a tiz at Supreme Court’s win-win decision
Hard Brexit is dead. Long live … hard Brexit
Leveson – Is the battle already lost?
Reporters Sans Frontieres: not my idea of a knock out
Harry’s Bottom and the Right to Privacy
Brexit: supreme logic required