Case study: Sources of International Law

Applicability of successive treaties on the same matter – Unilateral Acts of States

On 4th March 2017, the House of Lords published a report on Brexit and the EU budget. It concluded (paragraph 135) that:

On the basis of the legal opinions we have considered we conclude that, as a matter of EU law, Article 50 TEU allows the UK to leave the EU without being liable for outstanding financial obligations under the EU budget and related financial instruments, unless a withdrawal agreement is concluded which resolves this issue.

On 22 September 2017, the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, delivered a speech in Florence where she included the following statement: 

Still I do not want our partners to fear that they will need to pay more or receive less over the remainder of the current budget plan as a result of our decision to leave. The UK will honour commitments we have made during the period of our membership.

Essay Questions/Focus

You are expected to analyse and evaluate the application of international law in this scenario to determine:

1. Whether the House of Lord correctly concluded that the UK is not, as a matter of international law, under any obligation to settle financial commitments made during its membership of the EU once it has left the EU. 
2. Possible legal arguments that would support a different conclusion; 
3. Whether the speech of the Prime Minister may create obligations for the UK under international law.

Whatever approach to the case, the main aim of this exercise is to assess your knowledge and understanding of legal sources of international law. You must also demonstrate research skills using specialised databases to retrieve legal journal articles and other written sources (including primary sources of international law).

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