Remember when the prime minister reportedly threatened to sack his lord chancellor over Europe? Not a lifetime ago – just 13 months. Yet messrs Cameron and Gove are fast-fading political wraiths.
As the profession contemplates the reality of Brexit, much continues to be said about the awe-inspiring scale of the challenge by the Law Society and others. But one quote sticks in the mind, and seems all the more telling (poignant, even) because it was uttered in those prelapsarian days before June’s poll.
Solicitor Timothy Kirkhope, Conservative MEP and home affairs spokesman for Europe, told a Gazette roundtable in March 2016: ‘I’ve got 400 separate measures sitting in the justice folder – 400 – that we will have to negotiate ourselves out of. And that’s just in one area of competence. The cost will be enormous.’
Another ghost of justice secretaries past, Chris Grayling, had declared it ‘ludicrous’ that withdrawal would take as long as the second world war. But Kirkhope’s forecast then was for a ‘decade of very difficult negotiation and uncertainty’ if the UK voted leave.
Well, it seems we haven’t got a decade. And to paraphrase one Gazette reader, many MPs – let alone the public – still don’t know their acquis communautaire from their Statute of Proclamations (1539).
As ministers stumble in the dark, it is bitterly ironic that what they need – above all – is the goodwill of the UK’s peerless but endlessly traduced legal profession.