Update — In light of the interest triggered by this post, an on-line symposium has been organised on this blog to discuss the fate of the 1968 Brussels Convention. The first contribution, by Andrew Dickinson, can be found here.
Brexit has dealt a major blow to judicial cooperation in Europe. With the end of the transition period, the Brussels I bis Regulation became inapplicable in the relation between the UK and the EU. Some authors, however, took the view that the Regulation’s predecessor, the Brussels Convention of 1968, would continue to apply (see e.g. here and here). The main argument was that the Brussels Convention is an international treaty and not an instrument of EU law. Moreover, and contrary to the Rome Convention on the law applicable to contractual obligations, the Brussels Convention had not been fully replaced by a regulation and continued to apply with regard to some overseas territories.
This debate seems now to come to a close. On 29 January 2021, the British government informed the European Council of its view that the Convention has ceased to apply to the UK and Gibraltar with the expiry of the transition period on 1 January 2021. The unofficial document was posted on Twitter by Steven (“Steve”) Peers from the University of Essex (thanks to Felix Krysa for sharing the tweet with me). It reads in relevant part:
The Government of the United Kingdom hereby notifies the Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union that it considers that the Brussels Convention 1968 and the 1971 Protocol, including subsequent amendments and accessions, ceased to apply to the United Kingdom and Gibraltar from 1 January 2021, as a consequence of the United Kingdom ceasing to be a Member State of the European Union and of the end of the Transition Period.
Does this finally close the argument? Not for sure. The communication merely reflects an opinion by the British government, which as such is of no legal consequence. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties enumerates the cases in which an international convention is terminated. A unilateral denunciation is not among them. Absent an impossibility of performance, a fundamental change of circumstances or a breach by one party, an agreement by the parties is required to suspend the operation of a treaty.
Since the Brussels Convention bound the UK to no less than 14 EU Member States, it may take some time and effort to reach agreement that the Brussels Convention is all over. The mere information of the European Council by the British government is certainly not sufficient. Of course, the EU and the UK could also enter into a new treaty. The British government has lodged an application to join the Lugano Convention, but it is still awaiting an answer from the EU.