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Western Sahara Campaign UK brings legal challenge against post-Brexit trade deal with Morocco

Western Sahara Campaign UK (WSCUK) has issued judicial review proceedings against the Department for International Trade and the Treasury in respect of the UK-Morocco Association Agreement.

Posted on 17 March 2021

Western Sahara Campaign UK (WSCUK) is an independent voluntary organisation founded in 1984 with the aim of supporting the recognition of self-determination and independence for the Saharawi people of Western Sahara, and to raise awareness of the unlawful occupation of Western Sahara.

On Friday, WSCUK issued judicial review proceedings against the Department for International Trade and the Treasury in respect of the UK-Morocco Association Agreement. The trade agreement purports to apply to products and resources from Western Sahara, over which Morocco claims territorial sovereignty, despite the International Court of Justice having ruled that no ties of sovereignty exist. By extending the agreement to goods and resources from Western Sahara, the UK Government is argued to be in breach of its obligations under international law.

In 2015, WSCUK brought successful judicial review proceedings against HMRC and DEFRA in respect of their implementation of a previous version of the EU-Morocco Association Agreement and the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement.

The Court of Justice of the European Union determined the case in favour of WSCUK, which was then approved by the High Court of England and Wales. It was found that the EU agreements could not be applied to the territory of Western Sahara, nor could Morocco be understood to exercise jurisdiction over the territory, as this would contravene the principle of self-determination and the rule of international law that a treaty may not impose rights or obligations on a third party without that party’s consent.

John Gurr of Western Sahara Campaign UK said:

"This agreement, designed to circumvent the ruling of the High Court of England and Wales, undermines the right to self-determination of the Saharawi people. It allows the theft of the natural resources of Western Sahara and further entrenches the Moroccan occupation, a situation that is unlawful under international law. This challenge is a significant milestone on the road to independence from the illegal occupation of the territory by Morocco."

Erin Alcock of Leigh Day said:

“This is an important case as it is the first which is asking the court to look at the UK’s post-Brexit trade agreements. Our clients are concerned that the Government has not acted in accordance with its obligations under international law. It is of vital importance in this globalised world that governments comply with international law and respect fundamental rights”.

Victoria Wakefield QC of Brick Court Chambers and Conor McCarthy of Monckton Chambers are instructed in this matter.

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